Full Text Political Transcripts April 5, 2016: President Barack Obama Remarks at Press Briefing on Economy, Tax Inversion, Mocks Trump and Cruz Immigration Plans

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Economy

Source: WH, 4-5-16

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I’m horning in on Josh’s time just for a hot second.  As we learned last week, America’s economy added 215,000 jobs in March.  That means that our businesses extended the longest streak of private sector job creation on record — 73 straight months, 14.4 million new jobs,  unemployment about half of what it was six years ago.

This progress is due directly to the grit and determination and hard work and the fundamental optimism of the American people.  As I travel around the country, what always stands out is the fact that the overwhelming majority of folks work hard and they play by the rules, and they deserve to see their hard work rewarded.  They also deserve to know that big corporations aren’t playing by a different set of rules; that the wealthiest among us aren’t able to game the system.

That’s why I’ve been pushing for years to eliminate some of the injustices in our tax system.  So I am very pleased that the Treasury Department has taken new action to prevent more corporations from taking advantage of one of the most insidious tax loopholes out there, and fleeing the country just to get out of paying their taxes.  This got some attention in the business press yesterday, but I wanted to make sure that we highlighted the importance of Treasury’s action and why it did what it did.

This directly goes at what’s called corporate inversions.  They are not new.  Simply put, in layman’s terms, it’s when big corporations acquire small companies, and then change their address to another country on paper in order to get out of paying their fair share of taxes here at home.  As a practical matter, they keep most of their actual business here in the United States because they benefit from American infrastructure and technology and rule of law.  They benefit from our research and our development and our patents.  They benefit from American workers, who are the best in the world.  But they effectively renounce their citizenship.  They declare that they’re based somewhere else, thereby getting all the rewards of being an American company without fulfilling the responsibilities to pay their taxes the way everybody else is supposed to pay them.

When companies exploit loopholes like this, it makes it harder to invest in the things that are going to keep America’s economy going strong for future generations.  It sticks the rest of us with the tab.  And it makes hardworking Americans feel like the deck is stacked against them.

So this is something that I’ve been pushing for a long time.  Since I became President, we’ve made our tax code fairer, and we’ve taken steps to make sure our tax laws are actually enforced, including leading efforts to crack down on offshore evasion.  I will say that it gets tougher sometimes when the IRS is starved for resources and squeezed by the congressional appropriation process so that there are not enough people to actually pay attention to what all the lawyers and accountants are doing all the time.  But we have continued to emphasize the importance of basic tax enforcement.

In the news over the last couple of days, we’ve had another reminder in this big dump of data coming out of Panama that tax avoidance is a big, global problem.  It’s not unique to other countries because, frankly, there are folks here in America who are taking advantage of the same stuff.  A lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem.  It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed that they allow people, if they’ve got enough lawyers and enough accountants, to wiggle out of responsibilities that ordinary citizens are having to abide by.

Here in the United States, there are loopholes that only wealthy individuals and powerful corporations have access to.  They have access to offshore accounts, and they are gaming the system.  Middle-class families are not in the same position to do this.  In fact, a lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle-class families, because that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere.  Alternatively, it means that we’re not investing as much as we should in schools, in making college more affordable, in putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure, creating more opportunities for our children.

So this is important stuff.  And these new actions by the Treasury Department build on steps that we’ve already taken to make the system fairer.  But I want to be clear:  While the Treasury Department actions will make it more difficult and less lucrative for companies to exploit this particular corporate inversions loophole, only Congress can close it for good, and only Congress can make sure that all the other loopholes that are being taken advantage of are closed.

I’ve often said the best way to end this kind of irresponsible behavior is with tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate, closes wasteful loopholes, simplifies the tax code for everybody.  And in recent years, I’ve put forward plans — repeatedly — that would make our tax system more competitive for all businesses, including small businesses.  So far, Republicans in Congress have yet to act.

My hope is that they start getting serious about it.  When politicians perpetuate a system that favors the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, it’s not surprising that people feel like they can’t get ahead.  It’s not surprising that oftentimes it may produce a politics that is directed at that frustration.  Rather than doubling down on policies that let a few big corporations or the wealthiest among us play by their own rules, we should keep building an economy where everybody has a fair shot and everybody plays by the same rules.

Rather than protect wasteful tax loopholes for the few at the top, we should be investing more in things like education and job creation and job training that we know grow the economy for everybody.  And rather than lock in tax breaks for millionaires, or make it harder to actually enforce existing laws, let’s give tax breaks to help working families pay for child care or for college.  And let’s stop rewarding companies that are shipping jobs overseas and profit overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here at home and are good corporate citizens.

That’s how we’re going to build America together.  That’s how we battled back from this Great Recession.  That’s the story of these past seven years.  That can be the story for the next several decades if we make the right decisions right now.  And so I hope this topic ends up being introduced into the broader political debate that we’re going to be having leading up to election season.

And with that, I turn it over to Mr. Josh Earnest.

Q    A question about the Panama Papers, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    Given the release of these millions of pages of financial information, are you concerned that that reflects on the ability of the Treasury Department to sort of be able to see all the financial transactions across the globe — they clearly didn’t see these — and whether that suggests that the sanctions regime that you’ve put in place in a bunch of places around the world might not be as strong as you think it is?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we know the sanctions regime is strong because Iran wouldn’t have, for example, cut a deal to end their nuclear program in the absence of strong sanctions enforcement.

But there is no doubt that the problem of global tax avoidance, generally, is a huge problem.  It’s been brought up in G7 meetings.  It’s been brought up in G20 meetings.  There has been some progress made in coordinating between tax authorities of different countries so that we can make sure that we’re catching some of the most egregious examples.

But as I said before, one of the big problems that we have, Michael, is that a lot of this stuff is legal — not illegal.  And unless the United States and other countries lead by example in closing some of these loopholes and provisions, then in many cases you can trace what’s taking place, but you can’t stop it.  And there is always going to be some illicit movement of funds around the world.  But we shouldn’t make it easy.  We shouldn’t make it legal to engage in transactions just to avoid taxes.

And that’s why I think it is important that the Treasury acted on something that’s different from what happened in Panama.  The corporate inversions issue is a financial transaction that is brokered among major Fortune 500 companies to avoid paying taxes.  But the basic principle of us making sure that everybody is paying their fair share, and that we don’t just have a few people who are able to take advantage of tax provisions, that’s something that we really have to pay attention to.

Because as I said, this is all net outflows of money that could be spent on the pressing needs here in the United States.  And the volume that you start seeing when you combine legal tax avoidance with illicit tax avoidance, or some of the activities that we’re seeing, this is not just billions of dollars.  It’s not even just hundreds of billions of dollars.  Estimates are this may be trillions of dollars worldwide, and it could make a big difference in terms of what we can do here.

I’m going to take one more question and then I’m going to turn it over to Josh.  One last one, go ahead.

Q    Mr. President, the Republican frontrunner today outlined his plan to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, no.  (Laughter.)

Q    — pay for a wall along the border —

Q    Climate change?

Q    — barring undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from sending money back home.  What would be the real implication of this plan?  And are his foreign policy proposals already doing damage to U.S. relations abroad?

THE PRESIDENT:  The answer to the latter question is yes.  I think that I’ve been very clear earlier that I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made.  I do have to emphasize that it’s not just Mr. Trump’s proposals.  You’re also hearing concerns about Mr. Cruz’s proposals, which in some ways are just as draconian when it comes to immigration, for example.

The implications with respect to ending remittances — many of which, by the way, are from legal immigrants and from individuals who are sending money back to their families — are enormous.  First of all, they’re impractical.  We just talked about the difficulties of trying to enforce huge outflows of capital.  The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico, good luck with that.

Then we’ve got the issue of the implications for the Mexican economy, which in turn, if it’s collapsing, actually sends more immigrants north because they can’t find jobs back in Mexico.  But this is just one more example of something that is not thought through and is primarily put forward for political consumption.

And as I’ve tried to emphasize throughout, we’ve got serious problems here.  We’ve got big issues around the world.  People expect the President of the United States and the elected officials in this country to treat these problems seriously, to put forward policies that have been examined, analyzed, are effective, where unintended consequences are taken into account.  They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House.  We can’t afford that.

All right?  I’m turning it over to Josh.  Thank you, guys.

END
12:29 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts March 28, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Politics and Journalism at the 2016 Toner Prize Ceremony

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the 2016 Toner Prize Ceremony

Source: WH, 3-28-16

Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
Washington, D.C.

7:49 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.  And thank you, Chancellor Syverud for those wonderful remarks and reminding me of how badly my bracket is doing.  (Laughter.)  Congratulations, Syracuse.  You guys are doing great.  (Applause.)  I want to thank Robin’s wonderful husband, Peter, and their incredible kids, Jake and Nora, for organizing this annual tribute to her memory.  And I want to thank all of you for having me here this evening.

A Washington press dinner usually means ill-fitting tuxes, celebrity sightings, and bad jokes.  So this is refreshing.

And it is a great honor to be here to celebrate the 2015 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.  In this political season, it is worth reflecting on the kind of journalism Robin practiced — and the kind of journalism this prize rewards.

A reporter’s reporter — that was Robin.  From her first job at the Charleston Daily Mail to her tenure as the New York Times’ national political correspondent — the first woman to hold that position — she always saw herself as being a servant for the American public.  She had a sense of mission and purpose in her work.  For Robin, politics was not a horserace, or a circus, or a tally of who scored more political points than whom, but rather was fundamentally about issues and how they affected the lives of real people.

She treated the public with respect — didn’t just skim the surface.  Few reporters understood the intricacies of health care policy better.  Few could cut to the heart of a tax reform plan more deeply — and analyze how it would affect everybody, from a struggling worker to a hedge fund manager.  Few could explain complicated, esoteric political issues in a way that Americans could digest and use to make informed choices at the ballot box.

Robin’s work was meticulous.  No detail was too small to confirm, and no task too minor to complete.  And that, too, she saw as her responsibility — the responsibility of journalism.  She famously developed her own fact-checking system, cleaning up every name and date and figure in her piece — something most reporters relied on others to do.  And it’s no wonder then that of her almost 2,000 articles, only six required published corrections.  And knowing Robin, that was probably six too many for her taste.

And this speaks to more than just her thoroughness or some obsessive compulsiveness when it came to typos.  It was about Robin’s commitment to seeking out and telling the truth.  She would not stand for any stray mark that might mar an otherwise flawless piece — because she knew the public relied on her to give them the truth as best as she could find it.

Of course, these were qualities were harder to appreciate when her lens was focused on you.  She held politicians’ feet to the fire, including occasionally my own.  And in her quiet, dogged way, she demanded that we be accountable to the public for the things that we said and for the promises that we made. We should be held accountable.

That’s the kind of journalism that Robin practiced.  That’s the kind of journalism this prize honors.  It’s the kind of journalism that’s never been more important.  It’s the kind of journalism that recognizes its fundamental role in promoting citizenship, and hence undergirds our democracy.

As I’ve said in recent weeks, I know I’m not the only one who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail right now.  The divisive and often vulgar rhetoric that’s aimed at everybody, but often is focused on the vulnerable or women or minorities.   The sometimes well-intentioned but I think misguided attempts to shut down that speech.  The violent reaction that we see, as well as the deafening silence from too many of our leaders in the coarsening of the debate.  The sense that facts don’t matter, that they’re not relevant.  That what matters is how much attention you can generate.  A sense that this is a game as opposed to the most precious gift our Founders gave us — this collective enterprise of self-government.

And so it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us — as politicians or journalists, but most of all, as citizens — may have done to contribute to this atmosphere in our politics.  I was going to call is “carnival atmosphere,” but that implies fun.  And I think it’s the kind of question Robin would have asked all of us.  As I said a few weeks ago, some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, but all of us are responsible for reversing it.

I say this not because of some vague notion of “political correctness,” which seems to be increasingly an excuse to just say offensive things or lie out loud.  I say this not out of nostalgia, because politics in America has always been tough.  Anybody who doubts that should take a look at what Adams and Jefferson and some of our other Founders said about each other.  I say this because what we’re seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society.  And I’m not one who’s faint of heart.  I come from Chicago. Harold Washington once explained that “politics ain’t beanbag.”  It’s always been rough and tumble.

But when our elected officials and our political campaign become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations.  It threatens the values of respect and tolerance that we teach our children and that are the source of America’s strength.  It frays the habits of the heart that underpin any civilized society — because how we operate is not just based on laws, it’s based on habits and customs and restraint and respect.  It creates this vacuum where baseless assertions go unchallenged, and evidence is optional.  And as we’re seeing, it allows hostility in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society.  And that, in turn, tarnishes the American brand.

The number one question I am getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, what is happening in America — about our politics.  And it’s not because around the world people have not seen crazy politics; it is that they understand America is the place where you can’t afford completely crazy politics.  For some countries where this kind of rhetoric may not have the same ramifications, people expect, they understand, they care about America, the most powerful nation on Earth, functioning effectively, and its government being able to make sound decisions.

So we are all invested in making this system work.  We are all responsible for its success.  And it’s not just for the United States that this matters.  It matters for the planet.

Whether it was exposing the horrors of lynching, to busting the oil trusts, to uncovering Watergate, your work has always been essential to that endeavor, and that work has never been easy.  And let’s face it, in today’s unprecedented change in your industry, the job has gotten tougher.  Even as the appetite for information and data flowing through the Internet is voracious, we’ve seen newsrooms closed.  The bottom line has shrunk.  The news cycle has, as well.  And too often, there is enormous pressure on journalists to fill the void and feed the beast with instant commentary and Twitter rumors, and celebrity gossip, and softer stories.  And then we fail to understand our world or understand one another as well as we should.  That has consequences for our lives and for the life of our country.

Part of the independence of the Fourth Estate is that it is not government-controlled, and media companies thereby have an obligation to pursue profits on behalf of their shareholders, their owners, and also has an obligation to invest a good chunk of that profit back into news and back into public affairs, and to maintain certain standards and to not dumb down the news, and to have higher aspirations for what effective news can do.  Because a well-informed electorate depends on you.  And our democracy depends on a well-informed electorate.

So the choice between what cuts into your bottom lines and what harms us as a society is an important one.  We have to choose which price is higher to pay; which cost is harder to bear.

Good reporters like the ones in this room all too frequently find yourselves caught between competing forces, I’m aware of that.  You believe in the importance of a well-informed electorate.  You’ve staked your careers on it.  Our democracy needs you more than ever.  You’re under significant financial pressures, as well.

So I believe the electorate would be better served if your networks and your producers would give you the room, the capacity to follow your best instincts and dig deeper into the things that might not always be flashy, but need attention.

And Robin proves that just because something is substantive doesn’t mean it’s not interesting.  I think the electorate would be better served if we spent less time focused on the he said/she said back-and-forth of our politics.  Because while fairness is the hallmark of good journalism, false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw.  If I say that the world is round and someone else says it’s flat, that’s worth reporting, but you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support the notion that the world is round.  And that shouldn’t be buried in paragraph five or six of the article.  (Applause.)

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone.  It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more.  The electorate would be better served if that happened.  It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.  (Applause.)  And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them.  I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that.  But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word.  When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

It’s interesting — this is a little going off script.  But we still have our house in Chicago, and because Michelle, me and the kids had to leave so quickly, it’s a little bit like a time capsule, especially my desk — which wasn’t always very neat.  So I’ve got old phone bills that I think I paid — (laughter) — but they’re still sitting there.  And for a long time, I had my old laptop with the AOL connection.  But there’s also these big stacks of newspapers from right before the election.  And every time I go back, I have occasion to look back and read what I said at the time.  And Lord knows I’ve made mistakes in this job, and there are areas where I’ve fallen short, but something I’m really proud of is the fact that, if you go back and see what I said in 2007 and you see what I did, they match up.  (Applause.)

Now, part of the reason they match up is because in 2008, during the campaign, people asked me really tough questions about whether they’d match up.  And we had to spend a lot of time worrying about whether what I said I could deliver on, and whether we believed it was true.  And there was a price if you said one thing and then did something completely different.  And the question is, in the current media environment, is that still true?  Does that still hold?

I think Robin understood this because she asked those questions.  She asked me some of those questions.

One of the reasons I ran for this office was to try and change the tone of our politics in Washington.  And I remember back in early 2008 — eight years ago this month — Robin wrote a story wondering whether I could; whether it was even possible.  At the time, I probably thought the piece was fairly cynical.  And while I still believe Americans are hungry for a better politics, as I’ve said several times now, one of my great regrets is that the tone of our politics has gotten worse.  And I won’t take all the responsibility for it, but I’ll take some.  We all own some of it.  I’ll take my share.  But Robin asked that question.  She cast a critical eye from the very beginning.  And that was useful.  Still is.

As I believe that that for all the sideshows of the political season, Americans are still hungry for truth, it’s just hard to find.  It’s hard to wade through.  The curating function has diminished in this smartphone age.  But people still want to know what’s true.

Think about it.  Hollywood released films about getting stuck on Mars, and demolition derbies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you even had Leo DiCaprio battling a grizzly bear.  And yet it was a movie about journalists spending months meticulously calling sources from landlines, and poring over documents with highlighters and microfiche, chasing the truth even when it was hard, even when it was dangerous.  And that was the movie that captured the Oscar for Best Picture.

I’m not suggesting all of you are going to win Oscars.  But I am saying it’s worth striving to win a Toner.  (Applause.)

So, look, ultimately I recognize that the news industry is an industry — it’s a business.  There’s no escaping the pressures of the industry and all its attendant constraints.    But I also know that journalism at its best is indispensable — not in some abstract sense of nobility, but in the very concrete sense that real people depend on you to uncover the truth.  Real people depend on getting information they can trust because they are giving over decision-making that has a profound effect on their lives to a bunch of people who are pretty remote and very rarely will they ever have the chance to ask that person a direct question, or be able to sort through the intricacies of the policies that will determine their wages or their ability to retire, or their ability to send their kid to college, or the possibility that their child will be sent to war.

These are folks who trust you when you tell them that there’s a problem in their schools, or that their water has been poisoned, or that their political candidates are promoting plans that don’t add up.

That’s why the deep reporting, the informed questioning, the in-depth stories — the kind of journalism that we honor today — matters more than ever and, by the way, lasts longer than some slapdash Tweet that slips off our screens in the blink of an eye, that may get more hits todays, but won’t stand up to the test of time.  (Applause.)  That’s the only way that our democracy can work.

And as I go into my last year, I spend a lot of time reflecting on how this system, how this crazy notion of self-government works; how can we make it work.  And this is as important to making it work as anything — people getting information that they can trust, and that has substance and evidence and facts and truth behind it.  In an era in which attention spans are short, it is going to be hard because you’re going to have to figure out ways to make it more entertaining, and you’re going to have to be more creative, not less.  Because if you just do great reporting and nobody reads it, that doesn’t do anybody any good, either.

But 10, 20, 50 years from now, no one seeking to understand our age is going to be searching the Tweets that got the most retweets, or the post that got the most likes.  They’ll look for the kind of reporting, the smartest investigative journalism that told our story and lifted up the contradictions in our societies, and asked the hard questions and forced people to see the truth even when it was uncomfortable.

Many of you are already doing that, doing incredible work.  And in some ways, the new technologies are helping you do that work.  Journalists are using new data techniques to analyze economics and the environment, and to analyze candidates’ proposals.  Anchors are asking candidates exactly how they’re going to accomplish their promises, pressing them so they don’t evade the question.  Some reporters recently watched almost five hours of a certain candidate’s remarks to count the number of times he said something that wasn’t true.  It turned out to be quite a large number.  So talk about taking one for the team.  That was a significant sacrifice they made.

This is journalism worth honoring and worth emulating.  And to the young aspiring journalist that I had a chance to meet before I came on stage, those are the models you want to follow.

As all of you know, I just came back from Cuba, where I held a press conference with President Castro that was broadcast all over the country.  So in a country without a free press, this was big news.  And it was a remarkable thing that the Cuban people were able to watch two leaders — their own, and the leader of a country that they’d grown up understanding as their archenemy — answer tough questions and be held accountable.  And I don’t know exactly what it will mean for Cuba’s future.  I think it made a big difference to the Cuban people.  And I can’t think of a better example of why a free press is so vital to freedom.  (Applause.)

In any country, including our own, there will be an inherent tension between the President and the press.  It’s supposed to be that way.  I may not always agree with everything you report or write.  In fact, it’s fair to say I do not.  (Laughter.)  But if I did, that would be an indication that you weren’t doing your job.

I’ll tell you — I probably maybe shouldn’t do this, but what the heck, I’m in my last year.  (Laughter.)  I had an in-depth conversation with President Putin a while back about Syria and Ukraine.  And he had read an article in The Atlantic that Jeff Goldberg had done about my foreign policy doctrine.  And he said, well, I disagree with some of the things that you said in there.  And Jeff is a remarkable journalist who I admire greatly, and all the quotes that were directly attributed to me in there I completely agreed with.  I said, well, but some of the things that were shaped may not fully reflect all the nuance of my thoughts on the particular topic that President Putin was mentioning.  But I pointed out to him, of course, that unlike you, Vladimir, I don’t get to edit the piece before it’s published.  (Laughter and applause.)

So you are supposed to push those in power for more evidence and more access.  You’re supposed to challenge our assumptions.  Sometimes I will find this frustrating.  Sometimes I may not be able to share with you all of the context of decisions that I make.  But I never doubt how much — how critical it is to our democracy for you to do that; how much I value great journalism.  And you should not underestimate the number of times that I have read something that you did, and I have called somebody up and said, what’s going on here?  Because as Bob Gates told me when I first came in — I think it was my first or second week — I said, well, what advice do you have, Bob?  You’ve been around seven presidents.  You’ve served in Washington, in the administration.  He said, Mr. President, the only thing I can tell you for sure is that you’ve got about two million employees, and at any given moment in any given day, somebody, somewhere, is screwing up.  (Laughter.)

So you help me do my job better, and I’m grateful for that.  Because the point of politics, as Robin understood it — certainly as I’ve tried to understand it throughout my tenure in this job — the point of politics is not simply the amassing of power.  It’s about what you do with that power that has been lent to you through a compact, with a citizenry, who give you their proxy and say “I’m counting on you” to not just make my life better, but more importantly, to make my kids’ lives better, and my grandkids’ lives better.  Who will we help?  How will we help them?  What kind of country do we leave to the next generation?

My hope is, is that you continue to ask us questions that keep us honest and elevate our democracy.  I ask that you continue to understand your role as a partner in this process.  I say this often when I speak to Democratic partisan crowds:  I never said, “Yes, I can.”  I said, “Yes, we can.”  And that means all of us.  (Applause.)  If we can keep supporting the kind of work that Robin championed, if we cultivate the next generation of smart, tough, fair-minded journalists, if we can all, every single one of us, carry on her legacy of public service and her faith in citizenry — because you have to have a certain faith to be a really good journalist; you have to believe that me getting it right matters, that it’s not just sending something into the void, but that there’s somebody on the other end who’s receiving it, and that matters — if you continue to believe that, if you have faith, I have no doubt that America’s best days are ahead.

So thank you to Robin’s family.  Congratulations to this year’s winner.  And thank all of you.  God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

Full Text Political Transcripts March 28, 2016: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks at the 2016 Easter Egg Roll

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President and First Lady at the 2016 Easter Egg Roll

Source: WH, 3-28-16

 

South Lawn

10:41 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  How’s everybody doing today?  (Applause.)  Happy Easter!  You guys brought the sun out, so we appreciate that so much.  This is always one of our favorite events of the year.  It’s so much fun.  And I don’t want to talk too long, but I do want to make sure that everybody thanks our outstanding Marine band, who does such a great job.  (Applause.)  I want to thank all the volunteers who have helped to make this day possible.  Give them a huge round of applause.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Yay!  Thank you, honey.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

MRS. OBAMA:  Here, you take Sunny.  Hi, everybody!  (Applause.)  Happy Easter Egg Roll Day!  Are you all having a good time?

AUDIENCE:  Yeah!

MRS. OBAMA:  It is going to be perfect weather.  The sun is coming out, which is always a great omen for the day.  We’re just thrilled to have you all here.  Today is a little bit bittersweet for us, because this is the Obama administration’s last Easter Egg Roll.

AUDIENCE:  Aww —

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes.  And if we think about what we’ve accomplished over these past seven years, it’s pretty incredible.  Because when Barack and I first got here, one of the goals that we had was to open up the White House to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible.  So open it up to our kids, to our musicians, to explore our culture, to expose families to healthy living, and to just have a lot of fun.

THE PRESIDENT:  And our military families.

MRS. OBAMA:  And also to our military families.  I’ve got the peanut crew back here reminding me of stuff.  But we can’t forget all of our military families, who we love, honor and respect, for their service and sacrifice.  (Applause.)

And since we started having Easter Egg Rolls, we’ve had more than 250,000 people come to this lawn every year.  It’s been amazing.  Today we’re going to have 35,000 people who will come in and out of the South Lawn over the course of the day.  And we couldn’t be more excited for this last Easter Egg Roll.  We have danced.  We have done yoga.  We’ve got our Soul Cyclers here.  We’ve got some tremendous athletes and entertainers and artists who are going to read and play games with you all.  We’ve got a little “whip” and a little “nae nae” — or however you do it.  (Laughter.)  Something like that.

So we just want you to have fun.  And the theme this year in our final year is pretty simple.  It’s:  Let’s celebrate.  Let’s celebrate all the good work that we’ve done, all the great messaging we’ve had.  All the amazing change that we’ve seen in this country.  And we want to celebrate our families.  We want to celebrate our nation — everything that makes us strong.  It’s our diversity, it’s our values.  That’s what makes us strong.

And me and this President, we have been honored to be here as your President and First Lady to be able to host you in our backyard every single year.  So I hope you guys have a terrific time.  We’re going to be out there doing a little egg-rolling.  We’re going to have a fun-run today.  I’m going to be running around the White House with a bunch of kids — and any adults who feel like they can hang.  (Laughter.)  You guys can run along with me.  Don’t feel shy.

So just have a good time.  And just know that we love you.  We love you all, and we’re grateful for the love and support that you’ve shown us all these years.  So thank you all.

THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Easter, everybody!

MRS. OBAMA:  Happy Easter!  (Applause.)  Let’s celebrate!

END
10:45 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts March 22, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the People of Cuba

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba

Source: WH, 3-22-16

Gran Teatro de la Habana
Havana, Cuba

10:10 A.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Muchas gracias.  Thank you so much.  Thank you very much.

President Castro, the people of Cuba, thank you so much for the warm welcome that I have received, that my family have received, and that our delegation has received.  It is an extraordinary honor to be here today.

Before I begin, please indulge me.  I want to comment on the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Brussels.  The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium.  We stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.  We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible.  And this is yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality, or race, or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.  We can — and will — defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.

To the government and the people of Cuba, I want to thank you for the kindness that you’ve shown to me and Michelle, Malia, Sasha, my mother-in-law, Marian.

“Cultivo una rosa blanca.”  (Applause.)  In his most famous poem, Jose Marti made this offering of friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy.  Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz.  (Applause.)

Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.

Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies.  In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.

I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.  (Applause.)  I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  (Applause.)

I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing — I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.

We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.

Over the years, our cultures have blended together.       Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time — La Pelota — and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut.  (Applause.)  And it’s said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight — saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.  (Applause.)

So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja.  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.  (Laughter.)  Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.

For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.

But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.

Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries.  (Applause.)  Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We’ve begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement.  We’ve reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We’ve expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.

And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?  Why now?

There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.  (Applause.)

That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people.  (Applause.)  This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.  (Applause.)

And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people — especially the young people — to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.

I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.

In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas, cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire.  (Applause.)

Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl.  (Applause.)  And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we’ve seen how cuentapropistas can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.

Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can “innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.”

Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  “I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,” he said.  “But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.”

That’s where hope begins — with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances — so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel — which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges — so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.

As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It’s time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.  (Applause.)  It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world — (applause) — and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.

There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.  And over time, the youth will lose hope.

I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President.  Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption.  And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities.  I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.  (Applause.)

I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe — the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”

So let me tell you what I believe.  I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. (Applause.)  Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads.  (Applause.)  I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — (applause) — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.  (Applause.)  I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. (Applause.)  And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.  (Applause.)

Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal.  (Applause.)  I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.

Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system — economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list.  (Laughter.)  But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good.  It’s healthy.  I’m not afraid of it.

We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it’s still possible for somebody like me — a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money — to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That’s what’s possible in America.  (Applause.)

We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.

I’m not saying this is easy.  There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That’s how we got health care for more of our people.  That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That’s how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.  (Applause.)

Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It’s often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist.  (Laughter and applause.)  Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.  (Applause.)

So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution — America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world — those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we — like every country — need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.

There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down — but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.  (Applause.)  El futuro  de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano.  (Applause.)

And to President Castro — who I appreciate being here today — I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.

And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.

We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering.  (Applause.)  Last year, American health care workers — and the U.S. military — worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.

We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades.  (Applause.)  That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.

We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela.  (Applause.)  And in examining his life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent — (applause) — who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.

We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas — todos somos Americanos.  (Applause.)

From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That’s your strength.  (Applause.)  Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.

I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That’s why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.

For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here — I’ve traveled this distance — on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile — they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.

So the reconciliation of the Cuban people — the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile — that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.  (Applause.)

You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  “You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,” Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.

You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, “So many of us are now getting so much back.”

You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, “I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.”

Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another — that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.

The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together — un future de esperanza.  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family — together.  Si se puede.  Muchas gracias.  (Applause.)

END
10:48 A.M. CST

Full Text Political Transcripts March 21, 2016: President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro’s Remarks in a Joint Press Conference

Remarks by President Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 3-21-16

Palace of the Revolution
Havana, Cuba

2:18 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas tardes.  President Castro, to you, the Cuban government and the Cuban people, thank you for the welcome that you have extended to me, to my family, and to my delegation.  For more than half a century, the sight of a U.S. President here in Havana would have been unimaginable.  But this is a new day — es un nuevo día — between our two countries.

With your indulgence, Mr. President, I want to go just briefly off topic because during this weekend, I received news that one of our outstanding United States Armed Service members, Marine Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin of Temecula, California, was killed in northern Iraq as we assisted the Iraqi government in dealing with ISIL, the terrorist organization there.  And I just wanted to give my thoughts and prayers to the family there and those who have been injured.  It’s a reminder that even as we embark on this historic visit, there are U.S. Armed Service members who are sacrificing each and every day on behalf of our freedom and our safety.  So I’m grateful to them.

My wife, Michelle, and I brought our daughters — and by the way, they don’t always want to go with us; they’re teenagers now.  They have friends at home and they have things to do — but they wanted to come to Cuba because they understood, and we wanted to show them, the beauty of Cuba and its people.  We were moved by the Cubans who received us yesterday, smiling and waving, as we drove in from the airport.  We were grateful for the opportunity to experience Old Havana — had some excellent Cuban food.  Our visit to the Cathedral was a reminder of the values that we share, of the deep faith that sustains so many Cubans and Americans.  And it also gave me an opportunity to express my gratitude to Cardinal Ortega, who, along with His Holiness Pope Francis, did so much to support the improved relations between our governments.  This morning, I was honored to pay tribute to José Martí — not only his role in Cuban independence, but the profound words that he wrote and spoke in support of liberty and freedom everywhere.

I bring with me the greetings and the friendship of the American people.  In fact, I’m joined on this trip by nearly 40 members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans.  This is the largest such delegation of my presidency, and it indicates the excitement and interest in America about the process that we’ve undertaken.  These members of Congress recognize that our new relationship with the Cuban people is in the interest of both nations.  I’m also joined by some of America’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs because we’re ready to pursue more commercial ties, which create jobs and opportunity for Cubans and Americans alike.

And I’m especially pleased that I’m joined on this trip by so many Cuban Americans.  For them, and for the more than two million proud Cuban Americans across the United States, this is a moment filled with great emotion.  Ever since we made it easier to travel between our countries, more Cuban Americans are coming home.  For many, this is a time of new hope for the future.

So, President Castro, I want to thank you for the courtesy and the spirit of openness that you’ve shown during our talks.  At our meeting in Panama last year, you said that we’re willing to discuss every issue, and everything is on the table.  So with your understanding, my statement will be a little longer than usual.

President Castro always jokes with me about how long Castro brothers’ speeches can be.  But I’m going to actually go a little longer than you probably today, with your indulgence.  We have a half a century of work to catch up on.

Our growing engagement with Cuba is guided by one overarching goal — advancing the mutual interests of our two countries, including improving the lives of our people, both Cubans and Americans.  That’s why I’m here.  I’ve said consistently, after more than five very difficult decades, the relationship between our governments will not be transformed overnight.  We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights.  And President Castro and I have had very frank and candid conversations on these subjects.

The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.  And perhaps most importantly, I affirmed that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation.  Cuba is sovereign and, rightly, has great pride.  And the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.

At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future.  We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion.  Indeed, I look forward to meeting with and hearing from Cuban civil society leaders tomorrow.

But as you heard, President Castro has also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people, and poverty and inequality and race relations.  And we welcome that constructive dialogue as well — because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect, that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.

Part of normalizing relations means that we discuss our differences directly.  So I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed to hold our next U.S.-Cuba human rights dialogue here in Havana later this year.  And both of our countries will welcome visits by independent United Nations experts as we combat human trafficking, which we agree is a profound violation of human rights.

Even as we discuss these differences, we share a belief that we can continue to make progress in those areas that we have in common.  President Castro, you said in Panama that “we might disagree on something today on which we would agree tomorrow.”  And that’s certainly been the case over the past 15 months and the days leading up to this visit.  And today, I can report that we continue to move forward on many fronts when it comes to normalizing relations.

We’re moving ahead with more opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and interact with the Cuban people.  Over the past year, the number of Americans coming here has surged.  Last week, we gave approval for individual Americans to come here for educational travel.  U.S. airlines will begin direct commercial flights this year.  With last week’s port security announcement, we’ve removed the last major hurdle to resuming cruises and ferry service.  All of which will mean even more Americans visiting Cuba in the years ahead and appreciating the incredible history and culture of the Cuban people.

We’re moving ahead with more trade.  With only 90 miles between us, we’re natural trading partners.  Other steps we took last week — allowing the U.S. dollar to be used more widely with Cuba, giving Cubans more access to the dollar in international transactions, and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to earn salaries –- these things will do more to create opportunities for trade and joint ventures.  We welcome Cuba’s important announcement that it plans to end the 10 percent penalty on dollar conversions here, which will open the door to more travel and more commerce.  And these steps show that we’re opening up to one another.

With this visit, we’ve agreed to deepen our cooperation on agriculture to support our farmers and our ranchers.  This afternoon, I’ll highlight some of the new commercial deals being announced by major U.S. companies.  And just as I continue to call on Congress to lift the trade embargo, I discussed with President Castro the steps we urge Cuba to take to show that it’s ready to do more business, which includes allowing more joint ventures and allowing foreign companies to hire Cubans directly.

We’re moving ahead with our efforts to help connect more Cubans to the Internet and the global economy.  Under President Castro, Cuba has set a goal of bringing Cubans online.  And we want to help.  At this afternoon’s entrepreneurship event, I’ll discuss additional steps we’re taking to help more Cubans learn, innovate, and do business online — because in the 21st century, countries cannot be successful unless their citizens have access to the Internet.

We’re moving ahead with more educational exchanges.  Thanks to the generous support of the Cuban-American community, I can announce that my 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative will offer new opportunities for university students to study abroad — more Americans at Cuban schools and more Cubans at U.S. schools.  And going forward, educational grants and scholarships will be available to Cuban students.  And in partnership with the Cuban government, we’ll offer more English language training for Cuban teachers, both in Cuba and online.

Even as Cubans prepare for the arrival of the Rolling Stones, we’re moving ahead with more events and exchanges that bring Cubans and Americans together as well.  We all look forward to tomorrow’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.

More broadly, we’re moving ahead with partnerships in health, science, and the environment.  Just as Cubans and American medical teams have worked together in Haiti against cholera, and in West Africa against Ebola — and I want to give a special commendation to Cuban doctors who volunteered and took on some very tough assignments to save lives in West Africa in partnership with us and other nations.  We very much appreciate the work that they did.  Our medical professionals will now collaborate in new areas, preventing the spread of viruses like Zika and leading new research into cancer vaccines.  Our governments will also work to protect the beautiful waters of this region that we share.

And as two countries threatened by climate change, I believe we can work together to protect communities and our low-lying coasts.  And we’re inviting Cuba to join us and our Caribbean and Central American partners at this spring’s regional energy summit in Washington.

And finally, we’re moving ahead with our closer cooperation on regional security.  We’re working to deepen our law enforcement coordination, especially against narco-traffickers that threaten both of our peoples.  I want to thank President Castro and the Cuban government for hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.  And we remain optimistic that Colombians can achieve a lasting and just peace.  And although we did not have an extensive discussion of Venezuela, we did touch on the subject.  And I believe that the whole region has an interest in a country that is addressing its economic challenges, is responsive to the aspirations of its people, and is a source of stability in the region.  That is, I believe, an interest that we should all share.

So again, President Castro, I want to thank you for welcoming me.  I think it’s fair to say that the United States and Cuba are now engaged across more areas than any time during my lifetime.  With every passing day, more Americans are coming to Cuba, more U.S. businesses and schools and faith groups are working to forge new partnerships with the Cuban people.  More Cubans are benefitting from the opportunities that this travel and trade bring.

As you indicated, the road ahead will not be easy.  Fortunately, we don’t have to swim with sharks in order to achieve the goals that you and I have set forth.  As you say here in Cuba, “echar para adelante.”  Despite the difficulties, we will continue to move forward.  We’re focused on the future.

And I’m absolutely confident that if we stay on this course, we can deliver a better and brighter future for both the Cuban people and the American people.

Muchas gracias.  Thank you very much.

First question, Jim Acosta.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Thank you, President Castro, for your hospitality in Havana.  And thank you, Mr. President.

(In English.)  In your meeting with President Castro, what words did you use to urge him to pursue democratic reforms and expand human rights here in Cuba?  Will you invite President Castro to the White House?  We know he’s been to New York.  And why did you not meet with Fidel Castro?

And, President Castro, my father is Cuban.  He left for the United States when he was young.  Do you see a new and democratic direction for your country?  And why you have Cuban political prisoners?  And why don’t you release them?  And one more question, who do you prefer — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as I think we both indicated, we had a very fruitful conversation around issues of democracy and human rights.  Our starting point is that we have two different systems — two different systems of government, two different economies.  And we have decades of profound differences, both bilaterally and internationally.

What I have said to President Castro is that we are moving forward and not looking backwards; that we don’t view Cuba as a threat to the United States.  I hope that my visit here indicates the degree to which we’re setting a new chapter in Cuban-American relations.

But as is true with countries around the world where we have normalized relations, we will continue to stand up for basic principles that we believe in.  America believes in democracy.  We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values, but are universal values.  They may not express themselves exactly in the same way in every country, they may not be enshrined in the founding documents or constitutions of every country the same way, or protected legally in exactly the same ways, but the impulse — the human impulse towards freedom, the freedom that José Martí talked about, we think is a universal longing.

President Castro I think has pointed out that, in his view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age — that those things are human rights, as well.  I personally would not disagree with him.

But it doesn’t detract from some of these other concerns.  And the goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue and hopefully that we can learn from each other.

It does not mean that it has to be the only issue we talk about.  Economics, health, scientific exchanges, international cooperation on issues of regional as well as global import are also important.  But this is something that we are going to stay on.  And I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we’re falling short because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion, as well.

Here’s the one thing I do know is that when I talk to Cuban Americans — and, Jim, you’re second generation, and so I think I speak not for you directly, but for many that I talk to around the United States — I think there is enormous hope that there can be reconciliation.  And the bridge that President Castro discussed can be built between the Cuban American community and Cubans here.  There are family ties and cultural ties that are so strong.  And I think everyone would benefit from those ties being reestablished.

One of the impediments to strengthening those ties is these disagreements around human rights and democracy.  And to the extent that we can have a good conversation about that and to actually make progress, that, I think, will allow us to see the full flowering of a relationship that is possible.  In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant.  And this is not unique to U.S.-Cuban relations.  It’s one that, as you know, I have conversations with when we go to bilateral meetings with some of our very close allies, as well as countries that we don’t have as close of a relationship to.  But I think it is something that matters.  And I’ve met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention, and that’s something that I generally have to speak out on because I hear from them directly and I know what it means for them.

Excuse me.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  I was asking if his question was directed to me or to President Obama.  You talked about political prisoners.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think the second one was addressed to you.  Trump and Hillary.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  For him or for me?

Q    (As interpreted.)  For you, Mr. President.

 

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  What did you say about the political prisoners?  Can you repeat that question about political prisoners?  Did you ask if we had political prisoners?

Q    I wanted to know if you have Cuban political prisoners and why you don’t release them.

 

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Give me the list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately.  Just mention a list.  What political prisoners?  Give me a name or names.  After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners.  And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.

Q    And Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, President Castro?

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  Well, I cannot vote in the United States.

Q    (As interpreted.)  My question is for President Raul Castro.  I’m from Cuban TV.  President Raul Castro, you have repeatedly stated, and today once again, that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner with our differences.  Could you broaden this concept?  This is a historical moment that we are living.

And then I have a brief question for President Obama.  President Obama, could U.S. government give more space to eliminate U.S. blockade during your mandate so that another generation of Cubans would not have to suffer this economic and commercial blockade against Cuba?

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  The first question was for me.  Please repeat your question, because I couldn’t hear well.

Q    (As interpreted.)  You have said repeatedly that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner with our differences.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Well, President Obama himself has referred to that.  We have given the first steps –- many for being the first steps.  And we must continue giving these steps.  And I’m sure that we will be able to coexist peacefully in an environment of mutual cooperation as we are doing already in many fields for the benefit of both countries and with the benefit of other countries as we have already done — in Haiti, with the cholera and in Africa with the Ebola.  That is the future of mankind if we want to save the humans species.  The level of water grows and the island may become smaller.

You are asking too many questions to me.  I think questions should be directed to President Obama.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  So we have administratively already made a number of modifications on the embargo.  I referred to a number of them in my opening statement.  And we’ve actually been fairly aggressive in exercising as much flexibility as we can, given that the law putting the embargo in place has not been repealed by Congress.  There may be some technical aspects of the embargo that we can still make adjustments on, depending on problems as they arise.

So, for example, the issue around the dollar and the need to make modifications in terms of how the embargo was implemented to encourage, rather than discourage reforms that the Cuban government itself is willing to engage in and to facilitate greater trade and commerce, that is something that grew out of the dialogue between our governments, and we have made appropriate adjustments to it.  It will take some time for commercial banks to understand the new rules, but we actually think that this is an area where we can improve current circumstances.

But I’ll be honest with you that the list of things that we can do administratively is growing shorter, and the bulk of changes that have to be made with respect to the embargo are now going to rely on Congress making changes.

I’ve been very clear about the interests in getting that done before I leave.  Frankly, Congress is not as productive as I would like during a presidential election year.  But the fact that we have such a large congressional delegation with Democrats and Republicans with us is an indication that there is growing interest inside of Congress for lifting the embargo.

As I just indicated in my earlier answer, how quickly that happens will, in part, depend on whether we can bridge some of our differences around human rights issues.  And that’s why the dialogue I think is so important.  It sends a signal that at least there’s engagement between the two countries on these matters.

Now, I promised the President I would take one more question.  Andrea Mitchell of NBC.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you feel, after your meeting today, that you have made enough progress to even accelerate the pace and that the Cuban government is able to move quickly enough so that the changes that you have made through these technical adjustments to the embargo will be permanent, cannot be reversed by the next President?  And what advice have you given to President Castro about the ability of having the blockade, the embargo lifted?  Because he has said again today this is a continuous issue which is blocking progress, from their standpoint.

And you said the conversations about human rights were frank and candid and that you want to move forward.  But even as you were arriving, there were dramatic arrests of peaceful protests — the Ladies in White.  What signal does that send?  Can you have civilized coexistence at the same time you have such profound disagreements about the very definitions of what human rights means, as President Castro expressed today?

And for President Castro, for many of us, it’s remarkable to hear you speak about all these subjects.  Can you tell us what you see in the future?  President Obama has nine months remaining.  You have said you would be stepping down in 2018.  What is the future of our two countries, given the different definitions and the different interpretations of profound issues like democracy and human rights?

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Andrea, the embargo is going to end.  When, I can’t be entirely sure, but I believe it will end.  And the path that we’re on will continue beyond my administration.  The reason is logic.  The reason is that what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people. And as I said when we made the announcement about normalization of relations, if you keep on doing something over and over again for 50 years and it doesn’t work, it might make sense to try something new.

And that’s what we’ve done.  And the fact that there has been strong support not just inside of Congress, not just among the American people, but also among the Cuban people indicates that this is a process that should and will continue.

Having said that, lifting the embargo requires the votes of a majority in Congress, and maybe even more than a majority in the Senate.  And as I indicated to President Castro, two things I think will help accelerate the pace of bringing the embargo to an end.  The first is to the degree that we can take advantage of the existing changes that we’ve already made and we see progress, that will help to validate this change in policy.

So, for example, we have said that it is no longer a restriction on U.S. companies to invest in helping to build Internet and broadband infrastructure inside of Cuba.  It is not against U.S. law, as it’s been interpreted by the administration.  If we start seeing those kinds of commercial deals taking place and Cubans are benefitting from greater access to the Internet — and when I go to the entrepreneurship meeting later this afternoon, I understand that we’re going to meet some young Cubans who are already getting trained and are facile in using the Internet, they’re interested in startups — that builds a constituency for ending the embargo.  If we build on the work that we’re doing in agriculture, and you start seeing more U.S. farmers interacting with Cuban farmers, and there’s more exports and imports — that builds a constituency and the possibility of ending the embargo increases.  So hopefully taking advantage of what we’ve already done will help.

And the second area, which we’ve already discussed extensively, is the issue of human rights.  People are still concerned about that inside of Cuba.

Now, keep in mind I’ve got fierce disagreements with the Chinese around human rights.  I’ll be going to Vietnam later this year — I have deep disagreements with them as well.  When we first visited Burma, people questioned whether we should be traveling there because of longstanding human rights violations in our view.  And the approach that I’ve taken has been that if I engage frankly, clearly, stating what our beliefs are but also being clear that we can’t force change on any particular country — ultimately it has to come from within — then that is going to be a more useful strategy than the same kinds of rigid disengagement that for 50 years did nothing.

I guess ultimately what this comes down to, Andrea, is I have faith in people.  I think that if you meet Cubans here and Cubans meet Americans, and they’re meeting and talking and interacting and doing business together, and going to school together and learning from each other, then they’ll recognize people are people.  And in that context, I believe that change will occur.

Okay, now I’m done, but Señor Presidente, I think Andrea had a question for you just about your vision.  It’s up to you.  He did say he was only going to take one question and I was going to take two.  But I leave it up to you if you want to address that question.

Q    Por favor.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Andrea, she’s one of our most esteemed journalists in America, and I’m sure she’d appreciate just a short, brief answer.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Andrea —

Q    Mr. President.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  There is a program here to be fulfilled.  I know that if I stay here, you will ask 500 questions.  I said that I was going to answer one.  Well, I answered one and a half.  President Obama has already helped me out with the answer here, Andrea.

I was reading something about human rights, but I’m going to make the question to you now.  There are 61 international instruments recognized.  How many countries in the world comply with all the human rights and civil rights that have been included in these 61 instruments?  What country complies with them all?  Do you know how many?  I do.  None.

None, whatsoever.  Some countries comply some rights; others comply others.  And we are among these countries.  Out of these 61 instruments, Cuba has complied with 47 of these human rights instruments.  There are countries that may comply with more, there’s those that comply with less.

I think the human rights issue should not be politicized.  That is not correct.  That is a purpose that will stay the same way.  For example, for Cuba, the desire for all the rights.  Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that billions of children don’t die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medicament?  Do you agree with the right to free education for all those born anywhere in the world or in any country?  I think many countries don’t think this is a human right.  In Cuba, all children are born in a hospital and they are registered that same day, because when mothers are in advance pregnancy they go to hospitals days before, many days before delivery, so that all children are born in hospitals.  It doesn’t matter if they live in faraway places or in mountains or hills.  We have many other rights — a right to health, the right to education.

And this is my last example that I will mention.  Do you think that for equal work, men get better paid than women just for the fact of being women?  Well, in Cuba, women get the same pay for same work.  I can give you many, many examples.  I don’t think we can use the argument of human rights for political confrontation.  That is not fair.  It’s not correct.

I’m not saying that it’s not honest.  It’s part of confrontations, of course.  But let us work so that we can all comply with all human rights.  It’s like talking about pride — I’m going to end here because it’s a commitment that we should end in time.  It’s not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general.  Please give me the name of a political prisoner.

And I think this is enough.  We have concluded.  Thank you for your participation.

END               2:58 P.M. CST

—–

Political Headlines March 20, 2016: President Barack Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

PRESIDENCY, CONGRESS & CAMPAIGNS:

Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

Source: USA Today

SUNDAY

• Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, 4:50 p.m.
• Meet-and-greet at U.S. Embassy, 5:50 p.m.
• Family sight-seeing in Old Havana, including the Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana, 6:40 p.m.

MONDAY

• Wreath-laying at the José Marti Memorial, morning
• Official welcoming ceremony, Palace of the Revolution, morning
• Meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, morning
• Entrepreneurship summit, afternoon
• State Dinner at the Palace of the Revolution, evening

TUESDAY

• Address to the Cuban people at El Gran Teatro de Havana, morning
• Meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders, morning
• Baseball have between the Tampa Bay Rays at Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano, 2 p.m.
• Departure from Jose Marti International Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, afternoon

Full Text Political Transcripts March 16, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks Announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President Announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court

Source: WH, 3-16-16

 

Rose Garden

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Everybody, please have a seat.

Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution vests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice — particularly one to succeed Justice Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of our time.

The men and women who sit on the Supreme Court are the final arbiters of American law.  They safeguard our rights.  They ensure that our system is one of laws and not men.  They’re charged with the essential task of applying principles put to paper more than two centuries ago to some of the most challenging questions of our time.

So this is not a responsibility that I take lightly.  It’s a decision that requires me to set aside short-term expediency and narrow politics, so as to maintain faith with our founders and, perhaps more importantly, with future generations.  That’s why, over the past several weeks, I’ve done my best to set up a rigorous and comprehensive process.  I’ve sought the advice of Republican and Democratic members of Congress.  We’ve reached out to every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to constitutional scholars, to advocacy groups, to bar associations, representing an array of interests and opinions from all across the spectrum.

And today, after completing this exhaustive process, I’ve made my decision.  I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence.  These qualities, and his long commitment to public service, have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.  He will ultimately bring that same character to bear on the Supreme Court, an institution in which he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.

Today, I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court.  (Applause.)

Now, in law enforcement circles, and the in the legal community at large, Judge Garland needs no introduction.  But I’d like to take a minute to introduce Merrick to the American people, whom he already so ably serves.

He was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln — in my hometown of Chicago, in my home state of Illinois.  His mother volunteered in the community; his father ran a small business out of their home.  Inheriting that work ethic, Merrick became valedictorian of his public high school.  He earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude.  And he put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and, in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection.  (Laughter.)  It’s tough.  Been there.  (Laughter.)

Merrick graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, and the early years of his legal career bear all the traditional marks of excellence.  He clerked for two of President Eisenhower’s judicial appointees — first for a legendary judge on the Second Circuit, Judge Henry Friendly, and then for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.  Following his clerkships, Merrick joined a highly regarded law firm, with a practice focused on litigation and pro bono representation of disadvantaged Americans.  Within four years, he earned a partnership — the dream of most lawyers. But in 1989, just months after that achievement, Merrick made a highly unusual career decision.  He walked away from a comfortable and lucrative law practice to return to public service.

Merrick accepted a low-level job as a federal prosecutor in President George H.W. Bush’s administration.  He took a 50-percent pay cut, traded in his elegant partner’s office for a windowless closet that smelled of stale cigarette smoke.  This was a time when crime here in Washington had reached epidemic proportions, and he wanted to help.  And he quickly made a name for himself, going after corrupt politicians and violent criminals.

His sterling record as a prosecutor led him to the Justice Department, where he oversaw some of the most significant prosecutions in the 1990s — including overseeing every aspect of the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing.  In the aftermath of that act of terror, when 168 people, many of them small children, were murdered, Merrick had one evening to say goodbye to his own young daughters before he boarded a plane to Oklahoma City.  And he would remain there for weeks.  He worked side-by-side with first responders, rescue workers, local and federal law enforcement.  He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice.

But perhaps most important is the way he did it.  Throughout the process, Merrick took pains to do everything by the book.  When people offered to turn over evidence voluntarily, he refused, taking the harder route of obtaining the proper subpoenas instead, because Merrick would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.

Merrick also made a concerted effort to reach out to the victims and their families, updating them frequently on the case’s progress.  Everywhere he went, he carried with him in his briefcase the program from the memorial service with each of the victims’ names inside –- a constant, searing reminder of why he had to succeed.

Judge Garland has often referred to his work on the Oklahoma City case as, and I quote, “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”  And through it all, he never lost touch with that community that he served.

It’s no surprise then, that soon after his work in Oklahoma City, Merrick was nominated to what’s often called the second highest court in the land — the D.C. Circuit Court.  During that process, during that confirmation process, he earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from senators and legal experts alike.  Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination.  Back then, he said, “In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.”  He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick’s confirmation of “playing politics with judges.”  And he has since said that Judge Garland would be a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court who “would be very well supported by all sides,” and there would be “no question” Merrick would be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Ultimately, Merrick was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, the second highest court in the land, with votes from a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans.  Three years ago, he was elevated to Chief Judge.  And in his 19 years on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Garland has brought his trademark diligence, compassion, and unwavering regard for the rule of law to his work.

On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law.  He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.

And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament — his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing.  His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable.  It speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic.  As his former colleague on the D.C. Circuit, and our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, once said, “Any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.”

At the same time, Chief Judge Garland is more than just a brilliant legal mind.  He’s someone who has a keen understanding that justice is about more than abstract legal theory; more than some footnote in a dusty casebook.  His life experience –- his experience in places like Oklahoma City –- informs his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise.  He understands the way law affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly-changing times.  And throughout his jurisprudence runs a common thread -– a dedication to protecting the basic rights of every American; a conviction that in a democracy, powerful voices must not be allowed to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

To find someone with such a long career of public service, marked by complex and sensitive issues; to find someone who just about everyone not only respects, but genuinely likes –- that is rare.  And it speaks to who Merrick Garland is — not just as a lawyer, but as a man.

People respect the way he treats others — his genuine courtesy and respect for his colleagues and those who come before his court.  They admire his civic-mindedness — mentoring his clerks throughout their careers, urging them to use their legal training to serve their communities, setting his own example by tutoring a young student at a Northeast D.C. elementary school each year for the past 18 years.  They’re moved by his deep devotion to his family — Lynn, his wife of nearly 30 years, and their two daughters, Becky and Jessie.  As a family, they indulge their love of hiking and skiing and canoeing, and their love of America by visiting our national parks.

People respect Merrick’s deep and abiding passion for protecting our most basic constitutional rights.  It’s a passion, I’m told, that manifested itself at an early age.  And one story is indicative of this, is notable.  As valedictorian of his high school class, he had to deliver a commencement address.  The other student speaker that day spoke first and unleashed a fiery critique of the Vietnam War.  Fearing the controversy that might result, several parents decided to unplug the sound system, and the rest of the student’s speech was muffled.

And Merrick didn’t necessarily agree with the tone of his classmate’s remarks, nor his choice of topic for that day.  But stirred by the sight of a fellow student’s voice being silenced, he tossed aside his prepared remarks and delivered instead, on the spot, a passionate, impromptu defense of our First Amendment rights.

It was the beginning of a lifelong career — as a lawyer, and a prosecutor, and as a judge — devoted to protecting the rights of others.  And he has done that work with decency and humanity and common sense, and a common touch.  And I’m proud that he’ll continue that work on our nation’s highest court.

I said I would take this process seriously — and I did.  I chose a serious man and an exemplary judge, Merrick Garland.  Over my seven years as President, in all my conversations with senators from both parties in which I asked their views on qualified Supreme Court nominees — this includes the previous two seats that I had to fill — the one name that has come up repeatedly, from Republicans and Democrats alike, is Merrick Garland.

Now, I recognize that we have entered the political season  — or perhaps, these days it never ends — a political season that is even noisier and more volatile than usual.  I know that Republicans will point to Democrats who’ve made it hard for Republican Presidents to get their nominees confirmed.  And they’re not wrong about that.  There’s been politics involved in nominations in the past.  Although it should be pointed out that, in each of those instances, Democrats ultimately confirmed a nominee put forward by a Republican President.

I also know that because of Justice Scalia’s outsized role on the Court and in American law, and the fact that Americans are closely divided on a number of issues before the Court, it is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics — the squabbling that’s going on in the news every day.  But to go down that path would be wrong.  It would be a betrayal of our best traditions, and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.

At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they’re disposable — this is precisely the time when we should play it straight, and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves.  Because our Supreme Court really is unique.  It’s supposed to be above politics.  It has to be.  And it should stay that way.

To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise — that would be unprecedented.

To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people, might be treated, as one Republican leader stated, as a political “piñata” — that can’t be right.

Tomorrow, Judge Garland will travel to the Hill to begin meeting with senators, one-on-one.  I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote.  If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.  It will mean everything is subject to the most partisan of politics — everything.  It will provoke an endless cycle of more tit-for-tat, and make it increasingly impossible for any President, Democrat or Republican, to carry out their constitutional function.  The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer.  Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer.  Our democracy will ultimately suffer, as well.

I have fulfilled my constitutional duty.  Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs.  Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term.  Neither should a senator.

I know that tomorrow the Senate will take a break and leave town on recess for two weeks.  My earnest hope is that senators take that time to reflect on the importance of this process to our democracy — not what’s expedient, not what’s happening at the moment, what does this mean for our institutions, for our common life — the stakes, the consequences, the seriousness of the job we all swore an oath to do.

And when they return, I hope that they’ll act in a bipartisan fashion.  I hope they’re fair.  That’s all.  I hope they are fair.  As they did when they confirmed Merrick Garland to the D.C. Circuit, I ask that they confirm Merrick Garland now to the Supreme Court, so that he can take his seat in time to fully participate in its work for the American people this fall. He is the right man for the job.  He deserves to be confirmed.  I could not be prouder of the work that he has already done on behalf of the American people.  He deserves our thanks and he deserves a fair hearing.

And with that, I’d like to invite Judge Garland to say a few words.  (Applause.)

JUDGE GARLAND:  Thank you, Mr. President.  This is the greatest honor of my life — other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.  It’s also the greatest gift I’ve ever received except — and there’s another caveat — the birth of our daughters, Jessie and Becky.

As my parents taught me by both words and deeds, a life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those he is serving.  And for me, there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court.

My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here.  My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of Western Russian and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism, and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.  They settled in the Midwest, eventually making their way to Chicago.

There, my father, who ran the smallest of small businesses from a room in our basement, took me with him as he made the rounds to his customers, always impressing upon me the importance of hard work and fair dealing.  There, my mother headed the local PTA and school board and directed a volunteer services agency, all the while instilling in my sister and me the understanding that service to the community is a responsibility above all others.  Even now, my sisters honor that example by serving the children of their communities.

I know that my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out.  (Laughter.)  So are my sisters, who have supported me in every step I have ever taken.  I only wish that my father were here to see this today.  I also wish that we hadn’t taught my older daughter to be so adventurous that she would be hiking in the mountains, out of cell service range — (laughter) — when the President called.  (Laughter.)

It was the sense of responsibility to serve a community, instilled by my parents, that led me to leave my law firm to become a line prosecutor in 1989.  There, one of my first assignments was to assist in the prosecution of a violent gang that had come down to the District from New York, took over a public housing project and terrorized the residents.  The hardest job we faced was persuading mothers and grandmothers that if they testified, we would be able to keep them safe and convict the gang members.  We succeeded only by convincing witnesses and victims that they could trust that the rule of law would prevail.
Years later, when I went to Oklahoma City to investigate the bombing of the Federal Building, I saw up close the devastation that can happen when someone abandons the justice system as a way of resolving grievances, and instead takes matters into his own hands.  Once again, I saw the importance of assuring victims and families that the justice system could work.  We promised that we would find the perpetrators, that we would bring them to justice, and that we would do it in a way that honored the Constitution.  The people of Oklahoma City gave us their trust, and we did everything we could to live up to it.

Trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice or partisanship is what, in a large part, distinguishes this country from others.  People must be confident that a judge’s decisions are determined by the law, and only the law.  For a judge to be worthy of such trust, he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress.  He or she must put aside his personal views or preferences, and follow the law — not make it.

Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it’s the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years.  If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I have been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course.

Mr. President, it’s a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan.  I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me.  (Applause.)

END
11:30 A.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts March 10, 2016: President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Toasts at the State Dinner

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada at State Dinner

Source: WH, 3-10-16

 

East Room

8:32 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening, everybody.  Bonsoir.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House as we host Prime Minister Trudeau, Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau and the Canadian delegation for the first official visit and state dinner with Canada in nearly 20 years.  We intend to have fun tonight.  But not too much.  (Laughter.)  If things get out of hand, remember that the Prime Minister used to work as a bouncer.  (Laughter.)  Truly.  (Laughter.)

So tonight, history comes full circle.  Forty-four years ago, President Nixon made a visit to Ottawa.  And he was hosted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  (Applause.)  At a private dinner, there was a toast. “Tonight, we’ll dispense with the formalities,” President Nixon said, “I’d like to propose a toast to the future Prime Minister of Canada — Justin Pierre Trudeau.”  (Laughter.)  He was four months at the time.  (Laughter.)

All these years later, the prediction has come to pass.  Mr. Prime Minister, after today, I think it’s fair to say that, here in America, you may well be the most popular Canadian named Justin.  (Laughter and applause.)

I said this morning that Americans and Canadians are family. And tonight, I want to recognize two people who mean so much to me and Michelle and our family.  First of all, my wonderful brother-in-law, originally from Burlington, Ontario — Konrad Ng.  (Applause.)  This is actually an interesting story, though, that I was not aware of — Konrad indicated to me when we saw each other this afternoon that part of the reason his family was able to immigrate to Canada was because of policies adopted by Justin’s father.  And so had that not happened, he might not have met my sister, in which case, my lovely nieces might not have been born.  (Laughter.)  So this is yet one more debt that we owe the people of Canada (Laughter.)  In addition, a true friend and a member of my team who has been with me every step of the way — he is from Toronto and Victoria, and also a frequent golf partner, Marvin Nicholson.  (Applause.) So as you can see, they’ve infiltrated all of our ranks.  (Laughter.)

Before I ever became President, when we celebrated my sister and Konrad’s marriage, Michelle and I took our daughters to Canada.  And we went to Burlington and — this is always tough — Mississauga.  (Laughter.)  And then we went to Toronto and Niagara Falls.  (Laughter.)  Mississauga.  I can do that.  (Laughter.)  And everywhere we went, the Canadian people made us feel right at home.

And tonight, we want our Canadians friends to feel at home.  So this is not a dinner, it’s supper.  (Laughter.)  We thought of serving up some poutine.  (Laughter.)  I was going to bring a two-four.  (Laughter.)  And then we’d finish off the night with a double-double.  (Laughter.)  But I had to draw the line at getting milk out of a bag — (laughter) — this, we Americans do not understand.  (Laughter.)  We do, however, have a little Canadian whiskey.  That, we do understand.  (Laughter.)

This visit has been a celebration of the values that we share.  We, as a peoples, are committed to the principles of equality and opportunity — the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it if you try, no matter what the circumstances of your birth, in both of our countries.

And we see this in our current presidential campaign.  After all, where else could a boy born in Calgary grow up to run for President of the United States?  (Laughter and applause.)  Where else would we see a community like Cape Breton, Nova Scotia welcoming Americans if the election does not go their way?  (Laughter.)  And to the great credit of their people, Canadians from British Columbia to New Brunswick have, so far, rejected the idea of building a wall to keep out your southern neighbors.  (Laughter.) We appreciate that.  (Laughter.)  We can be unruly, I know.

On a serious note, this visit reminds us of what we love about Canada.  It’s the solidarity shown by so many Canadians after 9/11 when they welcomed stranded American travelers into their homes.  It’s the courage of your servicemembers, standing with us in Afghanistan and now in Iraq.  It’s the compassion of the Canadian people welcoming refugees — and the Prime Minister himself, who told those refugees, “You’re safe at home now.”

Justin, we also see Canada’s spirit in your mother’s brave advocacy for mental health care — and I want to give a special welcome to Margaret Trudeau tonight.  (Applause.)  And we see Canada’s spirit in Sophie — a champion of women and girls, because our daughters deserve the same opportunities that anybody’s sons do.

And this spirit reminds us of why we’re all here — why we serve.  Justin, Sophie, your children are still young.  They are adorable and they still let you hug them.  (Laughter.)  When we first spoke on the phone after your election, we talked not only as President and Prime Minister, but also as fathers.  When I was first elected to this office, Malia was 10 and Sasha was just seven.  And they grow up too fast.  This fall, Malia heads off to college.  And I’m starting to choke up.  (Laughter.)  So I’m going to wind this — it was in my remarks — (laughter) — and I didn’t — I can’t do it.  It’s hard.  (Laughter.)

But there is a point to this, though, and that is that we’re not here for power.  We’re not here for fame or fortune.  We’re here for our kids.  We’re here for everybody’s kids — to give our sons and our daughters a better world.  To pass to them a world that’s a little safer, and a little more equal, and a little more just, a little more prosperous so that a young person growing up in Chicago or Montreal or on the other side of the world has every opportunity to make of their life what they will, no matter who they are or what they look like, or how they pray or who they love.

Justin, I believe there are no better words to guide us in this work than those you once used to describe what your father taught you and your siblings — to believe in yourself. To stand up for ourselves.  To know ourselves, and to accept responsibility for ourselves.  To show a genuine and deep respect for each other and for every human being.

And so I would like to propose a toast — to the great alliance between the United States and Canada; to our friends, Justin and Sophie; to the friendship between Americans and Canadians and the spirit that binds us together — a genuine and deep and abiding respect for each and every human being.  Cheers.

(A toast is offered.)

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Dear friends, Mr. President, Barack, Michelle, all of you gathered here, it is an extraordinary honor for me to be here with you tonight.  Thank you so much for the warm welcome you’ve extended to Canada and to the Canadian delegation, and to Sophie and me, personally.

It’s incredibly touching to be able to be here not just as a couple, Sophie and I, but to have been able to bring our families down as well.  Sophie’s mom and dad, Estelle and Jean — get a load of Estelle, I’m looking forward to the future with Sophie.  (Laughter.)  And, of course, my own mother, Margaret, whose last State Dinner here was in 1977.  So it’s wonderful to have you here.

It’s also touching to meet Malia and Sasha, who are here at their first State Dinner.  And quite frankly, the memories for me of being a kid and not being old enough to attend these kinds of events with my father almost makes me wish I had gone through my teenage years as a child of a world leader — but not quite.  (Laughter.)  I admire you very much, both of you, for your extraordinary strength and your grace, through what is a remarkable childhood and young adulthood that will give you extraordinary strength and wisdom beyond your years for the rest of your life.  The one thing that you have received from your extraordinary parents is the tools to be able to handle the challenges and the opportunities in front of you.  So thank you very much for joining us tonight.  (Applause.)

In thinking about what I wanted to say this evening, I came across a quote from President Truman, who shared these words with the Canadian Parliament nearly 70 years ago.  He said that Canada’s relationship with the United States did not develop spontaneously.  It did not come about merely through the happy circumstance of geography, but was “compounded of one part proximity, and nine parts good will and commonsense.”

It is that enduring good will and commonsense that I believe defines our relationship to this day.  It’s what makes our constructive partnership possible.  It’s what allows us to respectfully disagree and remain friends and allies on the few occasions we do.  For example I would argue that it’s better to be the leader of a country that consistently wins Olympic gold medals in hockey.  (Laughter and applause.)  President Obama would likely disagree.  And yet, you still invited us over for dinner.  (Laughter.)  Because that’s what friends do.  (Laughter.)

Because, now that I think of it, we’re actually closer than friends.  We’re more like siblings, really.  We have shared parentage, but we took different paths in our later years.  We became the stay-at-home type — (laughter) — and you grew to be a little more rebellious.  (Laughter.)  I think the reason that good will and commonsense comes so easily is because we are Canadians and Americans alike, guided by the same core values.  Values like cooperation and respect.  Cooperation because it keeps us safe and prosperous.  And respect because it’s the surest path to both safeguarding the world we share and honoring the diverse people with whom we share it.

When it comes to security, for example, we agree that our countries are stronger and the world is safer when we work together.  For more than half a century, we’ve joined forces to protect our continent.  And we’ve been the closest of allies overseas for even longer, fighting together on the beaches of France, standing shoulder to shoulder with our European partners in NATO, and now confronting violent extremism in the Middle East.

In every instance, we realize that our concerns were better addressed together than alone, and together, we have realized the longest, most peaceful, and most mutually beneficial relationship of any two countries since the birth of the nation state.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t just serve its own interests — it serves the entire world.  Canadians and Americans also value economic interdependence, because we know that it brings greater prosperity for all of us.

Over $2.4 billion worth of goods and services cross the border every day — evidence of one of the largest and most mutually beneficial trading relationships in the world.  And one of our most popular exports to the United States, and I need you to stop teasing him, has been another Justin.  (Laughter.)  Now, no, no, that kid has had a great year.  (Laughter.)  And of course, leave it to a Canadian to reach international fame with a song called “Sorry.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Together, Canada and the U.S. negotiated trade agreements that have expanded opportunities for our businesses, created millions of good, well-paying jobs for our workers, and made products more affordable for more Canadian and American families.  We must never take that partnership for granted, and I can promise you that my government never will.

But nor should we forget that our responsibilities extend beyond our ruling borders and across generations, which means getting rid of that outdated notion that a health environment and a strong economy stand in opposition to one another.  And it means that when we come to issues like climate change, we need to acknowledge that we are all in this together.  Our children and grandchildren will judge us not by the words we said, but by the actions we took — or failed to take.

If we truly wish to leave them a better world than the one we inherited from our own parents — and I know, Mr. President, that you and the First Lady want this as strongly as Sophie and I do — we cannot deny the science.  We cannot pretend that climate change is still up for debate.  (Speaks French.)

Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership — your global leadership on the pressing issue of the environment and climate change.  (Applause.)

And finally, we believe — Canadians and Americans — in the fundamental truth that diversity can be a source of strength.  That we are thriving and prosperous countries not in spite of our differences but because of them.  Canadians know this.  It’s why communities across the country welcomed more than 25,000 Syrian refugees over the past four months.  (Applause.)  And not as visitors or temporary citizens, but as Canadians.  But of course, Americans understand this, too.  It’s why each generation has welcomed newcomers seeking liberty and the promise of a better life.  It’s what has made America great over the past decades.

We know that if we seek to be even greater, we must do greater things — be more compassionate, be more accepting, be more open to those who dress differently or eat different foods, or speak different languages.  Our identities as Canadians and Americans are enriched by these differences, not threatened by them.

On our own, we make progress.  But together, our two countries make history.  Duty-bound, loyal, and forever linked, whatever the future holds, we will face it together.  Neighbors, partners, allies, and friends.  This is our experience and our example to the world.

Barack, thank you for all that you have done these past seven years to preserve this most important relationship.  May the special connection between our two countries continue to flourish in the years to come, and may my grey hair come in at a much slower rate than yours has.  (Laughter.)

And with that, on behalf of 36 million Americans, I propose a toast to the President, to the First Lady, and to the people of the United States of America.  Cheers.

(A toast is offered.)

END
8:54 P.M. EST

Political Headlines March 10, 2016: White House State Dinner in Honor of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

PRESIDENCY, CONGRESS & CAMPAIGNS:

Guest list for state dinner in honour of Justin Trudeau

 Source: Toronto Star, 3-10-16
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau

Ms. Naomi Aberly, Philanthropist

  • Mr. Larry Lebowitz

Mr. David Abney, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, United Parcel Service

  • Ms. Sherry Abney

The Honorable Adewale Adeyemo, Deputy Assistant to the President & Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics, National Security Council, The White House

  • Ms. Heather Wong

Mr. Michael Alter, President, The Alter Group

  • Ms. Ellen Alter

Mr. Robert Anderson, Author

  • Mr. Eric Harland

The Honorable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science & Economic Development of Canada

Ms. Sara Bareilles, Singer

  • Ms. Jennifer Bareilles

Mr. Bruce Bastian, Co-Founder, WordPerfect Corporation

  • Mr. Clinton Ford

Mr. Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League

  • Mr. William Daly III

The Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development & La Francophonie of Canada

The Honorable Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State

  • The Honorable Evan Ryan

Ms. Angela Bogdan, Chief of Protocol of Canada

Mr. Jeremy Broadhurst, Deputy to the Chief of Staff & Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of Canada

Mr. Stephen Bronfman, Canadian Business Representative & Philanthropist

Ms. Ursula Burns, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Corporation

  • Mr. Lloyd Bean

Mr. Gerald Butts, Principal Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

The Honorable Kristie Canegallo, Assistant to the President & Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation, The White House

  • Ms. Simi Shah

The Honorable Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense

  • Ms. Cynthia DeFelice

The Honorable Susan Collins, U.S. Senator (Maine)

  • Mr. Peter Vigue

Ms. Audie Cornish-Emery, National Public Radio

  • Mr. Theodore Emery

The Honorable Susan Davis, U.S. Representative (California)

  • Dr. Steven J. Davis

The Honorable Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

The Honorable Anita Decker Breckenridge, Assistant to the President & Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, The White House

  • Mr. Russell Breckenridge

The Honorable Brian Deese, Assistant to the President & Senior Advisor, The White House

  • Ms. Kara Deese

The Honorable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada

Ms. Karen Dixon, Attorney & Executive Committee Member, Lambda Legal

  • Dr. Nan Schaffer

Ms. Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

  • Mr. Andrew Light

Mr. Adam Entous, The Wall Street Journal

  • Ms. Sandra Medina

Mr. Mark Feierstein, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, National Security Council, The White House

  • Ms. Tiffany Stone

Mr. Michael J. Fox, Actor

  • Ms. Tracy Pollan

The Honorable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade of Canada

The Honorable Michael Froman, Ambassador, United States Trade Representative

  • Ms. Nancy Goodman

Ms. Anna Gainey, President of the Liberal Party of Canada & Philanthropist

Mr. Mark Gallogly, Co-founder & Managing Principal, Centerbridge Partners

  • Ms. Elizabeth Strickler

The Honorable Suzy George, Deputy Assistant to the President & Executive Secretary & Chief of Staff of the National Security Council, The White House

  • Ms. Devon George-Eghdami

The Honorable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness of Canada

Mr. Jean Grégoire, Father of Mrs. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

  • Mrs. Estelle Blais, Mother of Mrs. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

The Honorable Avril Haines, Assistant to the President & Deputy National Security Advisor, National Security Council, The White House

  • Mr. David Davighi

Mr. John Hannaford, Foreign & Defense Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister & Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Privy Council Office of Canada

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch, President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate (Utah)

  • Ms. Wendy Hatch

Ms. Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President, & Chief Executive Officer, Lockheed Martin

  • Mr. James Hewson

The Honorable Bruce Heyman, U.S. Ambassador to Canada

  • Ms. Vicki Heyman

Mr. Grant Hill, Former Basketball Player, Member of The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition

  • Ms. Tamia Hill

Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Co-founder, Qualcomm & Chair of the Board of Trustees, Salk Institute

  • Ms. Joan Jacobs

The Honorable Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U .S. Department of State

  • Mr. Jonathan Jacobson

The Honorable Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor & Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs & Public Engagement, The White House

  • Mr. Anthony Balkissoon

The Honorable Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

  • Ms. Susan DiMarco

The Honorable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Wayne Jordan, Executive, Founder & Principal, Jordan Real Estate Investments

  • Ms. Quinn Delaney

Mr. Jonathan Kaplan, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, The Melt

  • Ms. Marci Glazer

The Honorable Derek Kilmer, U.S. Representative (Washington)

  • Ms. Jennifer Kilmer

The Honorable Angus King, U.S. Senator (Maine)

  • Ms. Kathryn Rand

Mr. Robert Klein II, President, Klein Financial Corporation & Chairman Emeritus, California Institute of Regenerative Medicine

  • Mr. Robert Klein III

The Honorable Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator (Minnesota)

  • Mr. John Bessler

The Honorable Patrick Leahy, U.S. Senator (Vermont)

  • Ms. Marcelle Leahy

Ms. Twila Legare, Letter Writer

  • Mr. Marc Legare

The Honorable Jacob Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Department of the Treasury

Mr. Charles Lewis, Chairman, Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation

  • Ms. Penny Sebring

Mr. Andrew Liveris, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, The Dow Chemical Company

  • Ms. Paula Liveris

Mr. Alexander Macgillivray, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, The White House

  • Ms. Shona Crabtree

His Excellency David MacNaughton, Ambassador of Canada to the United States of America

  • Mrs. Leslie Noble

The Honorable Denis McDonough, Assistant to the President & Chief of Staff, The White House

  • Ms. Karin McDonough

The Honorable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment & Climate Change of Canada

Mr. Lorne Michaels, Executive Producer, Saturday Night Live

  • Ms. Alice Michaels

The Honorable Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security & Counterterrorism, National Security Council, The White House

  • Mr. Mark Monaco

The Honorable Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

  • Ms. Katya Frois-Moniz

Mr. Dennis Muilenburg, Chairman, President, & Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company

  • Mr. Gregory Smith

The Honorable Shailagh Murray, Assistant to the President & Senior Advisor, The White House

  • Mr. Neil King

Mr. Mike Myers, Actor

  • Ms. Kelly Myers

The Honorable Marvin Nicholson, Special Assistant to the President, Trip Director & Personal Aide to the President, The White House

  • Ms. Helen Pajcic

Dr. Konrad Ng, Executive Director, Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

  • Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng

Ms. Sandra Oh, Actress

  • Mr. Lev Rukhin

Mr. John Owens, Chairman of the Board, MediGuide International

  • Ms. Missy Owens

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives (California)

  • Mr. Paul Pelosi

The Honorable Amy Pope, Deputy Assistant to the President & Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, National Security Council, The White House

  • Mr. Neil Allison

The Honorable Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,

  • Mr. Cass Sunstein

The Honorable Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce

  • Mr. John Poorman

Mr. Thomas Pritzker, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, The Pritzker Organization

  • Ms. Margot Pritzker

Ms. Kate Purchase, Director of Communications, Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

Ms. Roberta Rampton, Reuters

  • Mr. Peter Rampton

Mr. Ryan Reynolds, Actor

  • Ms. Blake Lively

The Honorable Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President & Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications & Speechwriting, National Security Council, The White House

  • Ms. Ann Norris

The Honorable Steven Ricchetti, Assistant to the President & Chief of Staff to the Vice President, The White House

  • Ms. Amy Ricchetti

The Honorable Susan Rice, National Security Advisor, National Security Council, The White House

  • Mr. Ian Cameron

Dr. Martine Rothblatt, Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer, United Therapeutics Corporation

  • Mrs. Bina Rothblatt

The Honorable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defense of Canada

The Honorable Peter Selfridge, Chief of Protocol, U.S. Department of State

  • Ms. Parita Shah Selfridge

The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Senator (New Hampshire)

  • Mr. William Shaheen

Ms. Beth Shaw, Personal Finance Commentator & Member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans

  • Mr. Adam Shaw

Mr. Adam Silver, Commissioner, National Basketball Association

  • Ms. Maggie Grise

Mr. Ian Simmons, Co-Founder & Principal, Blue Haven Initiative

  • Ms. Liesel Simmons

The Honorable Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, U.S. Department of State

  • Ms. Jennifer Klein

Mrs. Michéle Taylor, Member, United States Holocaust Memorial Council

  • Dr. Kenneth Taylor

The Honorable Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President & Chief of Staff to the First Lady, The White House

Ms. Katie Telford, Chief of Staff, Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

The Honorable Jon Tester, U.S. Senator (Montana)

  • Ms. Sharla Tester

The Honorable Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans & the Canadian Coast Guard of Canada

Mrs. Margaret Trudeau, Mother of Prime Minister Trudeau

Mr. Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council & Secretary to the Cabinet Privy Council Office of Canada

The Honorable Melissa Winter, Deputy Assistant to the President & Senior Advisor to the First Lady, The White House

Mr. David Zaslav, President & Chief Executive Officer, Discovery Communications

  • Ms. Pam Zaslav

Full Text Political Transcripts March 10, 2016: President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Remarks at Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 3-10-16

 

 

Rose Garden

11:11 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat. Well, once again, I want to welcome Prime Minister Trudeau to the White House.  We just completed a very productive meeting.  Although I regret to inform you that we still have not reached agreement on hockey.  But it is not interfering with the rest of our bilateral relationship.  (Laughter.)

As I said earlier, this visit reflects something we Americans don’t always say enough, and that is how much we value our great alliance and partnership with our friends up north.  We’re woven together so deeply — as societies, as economies — that it’s sometimes easy to forget how truly remarkable our relationship is.  A shared border — more than 5,000 miles — that is the longest between any two nations in the world.  Every day, we do some $2 billion in trade and investment — and that’s the largest bilateral economic relationship in the world.  Every day, more than 400,000 Americans and Canadians cross the border  — workers, businesspeople, students, tourists, neighbors.  And, of course, every time we have a presidential election, our friends to the north have to brace for an exodus of Americans who swear they’ll move to Canada if the guy from the other party wins.  (Laughter.)  But, typically, it turns out fine.  (Laughter.)

This is now my second meeting with Justin.  I’m grateful that I have him as a partner.  We’ve got a common outlook on what our nations can achieve together.  He campaigned on a message of hope and of change.  His positive and optimistic vision is inspiring young people.  At home, he’s governing with a commitment to inclusivity and equality.  On the world stage, his country is leading on climate change and he cares deeply about development.  So, from my perspective, what’s not to like?

Of course, no two nations agree on everything.  Our countries are no different.  But in terms of our interests, our values, how we approach the world, few countries match up the way the United States and Canada do.  And given our work together today, I can say — and I believe the Prime Minister would agree — that when it comes to the central challenges that we face, our two nations are more closely aligned than ever.

We want to make it easier to trade and invest with one another.  America is already the top destination for Canadian exports, and Canada is the top market for U.S. exports, which support about 1.7 million good-paying American jobs.  When so many of our products, like autos, are built on both sides of the border in an integrated supply chain, this co-production makes us more competitive in the global economy as a whole.  And we want to keep it that way.

So we’ve instructed our teams to stay focused on making it even easier for goods and people to move back and forth across the borders — including reducing bottlenecks and streamlining regulations.  We discussed how to move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and today we also reaffirmed our determination to move ahead with an agreement to pre-clear travelers through immigration and customs, making it even easier for Canadians and Americans to travel and visit and do business together.

As NATO allies, we’re united against the threat of terrorism.  Canada is an extraordinarily valued member of the global coalition fighting ISIL — tripling its personnel to help train and advise forces in Iraq, stepping up its intelligence efforts in the region, and providing critical humanitarian support.  We’re working closely together to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, and today, we agreed to share more information — including with respect to our no-fly lists and full implementation of our entry/exit system — even as we uphold the privacy and civil liberties of our respective citizens.

In Syria, the cessation of hostilities has led to a measurable drop in violence in the civil war, and the United States and Canada continue to be leaders in getting humanitarian aid to Syrians who are in desperate need.  Meanwhile, our two countries continue to safely welcome refugees from that conflict. And I want to commend Justin and the Canadian people once again for their compassionate leadership on this front.

I’m especially pleased to say the United States and Canada are fully united in combating climate change.  As the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers and sea ice.  And so we are focusing on making sure the Paris agreement is fully implemented, and we’re working to double our investments in clean energy research and development.

Today, we’re also announcing some new steps.  Canada is joining us in our aggressive goal to bring down methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors in both of our countries, and together we’re going to move swiftly to establish comprehensive standards to meet that goal.  We’re also going to work together to phase down HFCs and to limit carbon emissions from international aviation.  We’re announcing a new climate and science partnership to protect the Arctic and its people.  And later this year, I’ll welcome our partners, including Canada, to our White House Science Ministerial on the Arctic to deepen our cooperation in this vital region.

We’re also grateful for Canada’s partnership as we renew America’s leadership across the hemisphere.  Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for Canada’s continuing support for our new chapter of engagement with the Cuban people, which I will continue with my upcoming visit to Cuba next week.  We’re going to work to help Colombia achieve peace and remove the deadly legacy of landmines there.  And our scientists and public health professionals will work with partners across the hemisphere to prevent the spread of the Zika virus and work together actively for diagnostic and vaccines that can make a real difference.

And finally, our shared values — our commitment to human development and the dignity of all people — continue to guide our work as global partners.  Through the Global Health Security Agenda, we’re stepping up our efforts to prevent outbreaks of diseases from becoming epidemics.  We are urgently working to help Ethiopia deal with the worst drought in half a century.  Today, our spouses, Michelle and Sophie, are reaffirming our commitment to the health and education of young women and girls around the world.  And Canada will be joining our Power Africa initiative to bring electricity — including renewable energy — to homes and businesses across the continent and help lift people out of poverty.  And those are our values at work.

So, again, Justin, I want to thank you for your partnership. I believe we’ve laid a foundation for even greater cooperation for our countries for years to come.  And I’d like to think that it is only the beginning.  I look forward to welcoming you back for the Nuclear Security Summit in a few weeks.  I’m pleased that we were able to announce that the next North American Leaders Summit that will be in Canada this summer.  The Prime Minister has invited me to address the Canadian parliament, and that’s a great honor.  I look forward to the opportunity to speak directly to the Canadian people about the extraordinary future that we can build together.

Prime Minister Trudeau.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Thank you, Mr. President.

Good morning, everyone.  It’s an honor to be here.  As I’ve reflected on the storied relationship between our two great countries, I constantly return to President Kennedy’s wise words on our friendship that, “what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”  And as President Obama mentioned earlier, if geography made us neighbors, then shared values made us kindred spirits, and it is our choices, individually and collectively, that make us friends.

That friendship, matched by much hard work, has allowed us to do great things throughout our history — from the beaches of Normandy to the free trade agreement, and now, today, on climate change.  The President and I share a common goal:  We want a clean-growth economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all of our citizens.  And I’m confident that, by working together, we’ll get there sooner than we think.

Let’s take the Paris agreement, for example.  That agreement is both a symbolic declaration of global cooperation on climate change, as well as a practical guide for growing our economies in a responsible and sustainable way.  Canada and the U.S. have committed to signing the agreement as soon as possible.  We know that our international partners expect and, indeed, need leadership from us on this issue.

The President and I have announced today that we’ll take ambitious action to reduce methane emissions nearly by half from the oil and gas sector, reduce use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, and implement aligned greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, amongst other plans to fight climate change.

(As interpreted from French.)  We also announced a new partnership aiming to develop a sustainable economy in the Arctic.  This partnership foresees new standards based on scientific data, from fishing in the high seas of the Arctic, as well as set new standards to ensure maritime transport with less emissions.  The partnership will also promote sustainable development in the region, in addition to putting the bar higher in terms of preserving the biodiversity in the Arctic.

We have also decided to make our borders both more open and more safe by agreeing of pre-clearing at the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto and the Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec, as well as the railroad stations in Montreal and Vancouver.  Moreover, we’re creating a U.S.-Canada working group in the next 60 days on the recourses to assess how we will resolve errors of identity on the no-fly list.

(Speaks English.)  The President and I acknowledge the fundamental and wholly unique economic relationship between Canada and the United States.  We have, historically, been each other’s largest trading partners.  Each and every day, over $2.4 billion worth of goods and services cross the border.  Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to streamlining trade between our countries.

Overall, the President and I agree on many things, including, of paramount importance, the direction we want to take our countries in to ensure a clean and prosperous future.  We’ve made tremendous progress on many issues.  Unfortunately, I will leave town with my beloved Expos still here in Washington.  You can’t have everything.  (Laughter.)

I’d like to conclude by extending my deepest thanks to Barack for his leadership on the climate change file to date.  I want to assure the American people that they have a real partner in Canada.  Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet.

I’m very much looking forward to the remainder of my time here in Washington.  So thank you again for your leadership and your friendship.  I know that our two countries can achieve great things by working together as allies and as friends, as we have done so many times before.

Merci beaucoup, Barack.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  All right, we’re going to take a few questions.  We’ll start with Julie Davis.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to ask you about the Supreme Court.  You’ve already said you’re looking for a highly qualified nominee with impeccable credentials.  Can you give us a sense of what other factors you’re considering in making your final choice?  How much of this comes down to a gut feeling for you?  And does it affect your decision to know that your nominee is very likely to hang out in the public eye without hearings or a vote for a long time, or maybe ever?  And, frankly, shouldn’t that be driving your decision if you’re asking someone to put themselves forward for this position as this point?

For Prime Minister Trudeau, I wanted to ask you — we know you’ve been following our presidential campaign here in the U.S. As the President alluded to, you’ve even made a joke about welcoming Americans who might be frightened of a Donald Trump presidency to your country.  What do you think the stakes are for you and for the relationship between Canada and the United States if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz were to win the presidency and to succeed President Obama?  You obviously see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of issues.  What do you think — how would it affect the relationship if one of them were to succeed President Obama?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Even though it wasn’t directed to me, let me just — (laughter) — I do want to point out I am absolutely certain that, in 2012, when there was the possibility that I might be reelected there were folks who were threatening to go to Canada, as well.  And one of the great things about a relationship like Canada’s and the United States’ is it transcends party and it’s bipartisan in terms of the interest that we share.

With respect to the Supreme Court, I’ve told you, Julie, what I’m looking for.  I want somebody who is an outstanding jurist, who has impeccable legal credentials, who, by historical standards, would not even be questioned as qualified for the Court.

Obviously, it’s somebody who I want to make sure follows the Constitution; cares about things like stare decisis and precedent; understands the necessary humility of a judge at any level in looking at statute, looking at what the elected branches are doing; is not viewing themselves as making law or, in some ways, standing above elected representatives, but also recognizes the critical role that that branch plays in protecting minorities to ensuring that the political system doesn’t skew in ways that systematically leave people out, that are mindful of the traditions that are embedded in our cherished documents like the Bill of Rights.

So in terms of who I select, I’m going to do my job.  And then my expectation is going to be that the Senate do its job as outlined in the Constitution.  I’ve said this before — I find it ironic that people who are constantly citing the Constitution would suddenly read into the Constitution requirements, norms, procedures that are nowhere to be found there.  That’s precisely the kinds of interpretive approach that they have vehemently rejected and that they accused liberals of engaging in all the time.  Well, you can’t abandon your principles — if, in fact, these are your principles — simply for the sake of political expedience.

So we’ll see how they operate once a nomination has been made.  I’m confident that whoever I select, among fair-minded people will be viewed as an eminently qualified person.  And it will then be up to Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to follow the Constitution and abide by the rules of fair play that ultimately undergird our democracy and that ensure that the Supreme Court does not just become one more extension of our polarized politics.

If and when that happens, our system is not going to work.  It’s not that the Supreme Court or any of our courts can be hermetically sealed from the rest of our society.  These are human beings.  They read the newspapers; they’ve got opinions; they’ve got values.  But our goal is to have them be objective and be able to execute their duties in a way that gives everybody — both the winning party and the losing party in any given case — a sense that they were treated fairly.  That depends on a process of selecting and confirming judges that is perceived as fair.  And my hope is, is that cooler heads will prevail and people will reflect on what’s at stake here once a nomination is made.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  One of the things that is abundantly clear whenever a President and Prime Minister sit down to engage on important issues of relevance to our peoples is that the relationship, the friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies.

I have tremendous confidence in the American people, and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.

Alex.

Q    Good morning.  This meeting is happening at a unique point in the Canada-U.S. relationship.  President Obama, you have very little time left here.  Prime Minister Trudeau, you have several years to think about and work on Canada’s most important relationship.  So I’d like to ask you a longer-term question, maybe to lay down some markers about big ideas, big things that you think the two countries could achieve in the coming years, beyond the next few months, and whether those things might include something like a common market that would allow goods and services and workers to flow more freely across our border.

And on a more personal note, you’ve had a chance to observe each other’s election campaigns and now you’ve had a chance to work together a little bit.  I’d like to ask you for your impressions — to ask about your impression of President Obama and his potential legacy, and about Prime Minister Trudeau’s potential.  And if you could answer that in French, bonus points to either of you — (laughter) — but we’d be especially keen to hear Prime Minister Trudeau do so.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Thank you, Alex.  First of all, we very much did engage on big issues throughout our conversations and throughout our hard work this morning, and over the months leading up to this meeting today — issues that are of import not just to all of our citizens but to the entire world.

Whether it’s how we ensure that there is no contradiction between a strong economy and a protected environment; understand how we need to work together as individual countries but, indeed, as a planet to address the challenges of climate change; how we continue to seek to ensure security for our citizens here at home, but also create stability and opportunity and health security for people around the world facing pandemics and violence and issues — these are big issues that Canada and the U.S. have always been engaged on in various ways over the past decades and centuries, and, indeed, will continue to.

One of the things that we highlight is the fact that we have different scales, different perspectives on similar issues and on shared values is actually a benefit in that we can complement each other in our engagement with the world and our approach to important issues.

So I look forward to many, many, many more years — it will certainly outlive the both of us — of a tremendous and responsible and effective friendship and collaboration between our two countries.

(As interpreted from French.)  The topic of our discussions this morning has been what is at stake — climate change, security in the world, our commitments towards the most vulnerable populations.  Canada and the United States are the lucky countries in many ways — they will always have a lot to do in order to be together in the world.  And this is what we are going to keep on doing in the years and the decades to come, and we hope in the centuries to come.

About President Obama, I’ve learned a lot from him.  He is somebody who is a deep thinker.  He is somebody with a big heart but also a big brain.  And for me to be able to count on him as a friend who has lived through many of the things that I’m about to encounter on a political stage, on the international stage, it’s a great comfort to me.  And it is always great to have people that you can trust, people that you can count on personally, especially when you are facing very big challenges such as what we are doing right now in the United States and Canada.

(Speaks English.)  — always pleased to hear from President Obama how he has engaged with difficult issues of the past, because he is a man of both tremendous heart and tremendous intellect.  And being able to draw on his experience and his wisdom as I face the very real challenges that our countries and, indeed, our world will be facing in the coming years is something I appreciate deeply about my friend, Barack.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Alex, was it?

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Alex.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me just note, first of all, that the tenor of your question seems to imply that I’m old and creaky.  (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Not the tenor of my answer, I hope. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, you managed it well.  (Laughter.)  But don’t think I didn’t catch that.  It is true — I think I’ve said before that in my congratulatory call, I indicated to him that if, in fact, you plan to keep your dark hair, then you have to start dyeing it early.  (Laughter.)  You hit a certain point and it’s too late — you’ll be caught.

But look, I think Justin and his delegation — because one of the things we learn very rapidly in these jobs is, is that this is a team effort and not a solo act — they’re bringing the right values, enormous energy, enormous passion and commitment to their work, and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that they are keenly interested in engaging Canadian citizens in the process of solving problems.

And I think that’s how democracies are supposed to work.  And their instincts are sound.  And that’s reflected in the positive response to the work that they’ve done so far, and I think that will carry them very far.  And Justin’s talent and concern for the Canadian people and his appreciation of the vital role that Canada can play in the larger world is self-apparent.  He is, I think, going to do a great job.  And we’re looking forward to partnering with him and we’re glad to have him and his team as a partner.

And with respect to big ideas, look, to some degree, you don’t fix what’s not broken.  And the relationship is extraordinary and doesn’t, I don’t think, need some set of revolutionary concepts.  What it does require is not taking the relationship for granted.  It does require steady effort.  And perhaps most importantly, it requires, because we have so much in common, that we recognize on the big, looming issues on the horizon, it is vital for us to work together because the more aligned we are, the more we can shape the international agenda to meet these challenges.

Climate change is such an example.  This is going to be a big problem for everybody.  There are countries that are going to be hit worse by it; in some ways, Canada and the United States, as wealthier countries, can probably adapt and manage better.  On the other hand, we’re also those responsible for a lot of the carbon pollution that is causing climate change.  If we don’t agree, if we’re not aggressive, if we’re not far-sighted, if we don’t pool our resources around the research and development and clean energy agenda that’s required to solve this problem, then other countries won’t step up and it won’t get solved.  That’s a big idea.  That’s a really important effort.

With respect to the economy, one of the things that Canada and the United States share is a commitment to a free market.  I believe, and I know Justin does as well, that a market-based economy not only has proven to be the greatest engine for prosperity the world has ever known, but also underwrites our individual freedoms in many ways.  And we value our business sector, and we value entrepreneurship.  But what we’re seeing across the developed world — and this will have manifestations in the developing world — is the need for more inclusion in growth, making sure that it’s broad-based, making sure that people are not left behind in a globalized economy.  And that’s a big idea for the United States and Canada to work together on, along with our other partners.

If we don’t get this right, if we do not make sure that the average Canadian or the average American has confidence that the fruits of their labor, the opportunities for their children are going to continue to expand over time, if they see societies in which a very few are doing better and better and the middle class and working people are falling further and further behind, that destabilizes the economy; it makes it less efficient; it makes it less rapid in its growth.  But it also starts destabilizing our politics and our democracies.

And so, working together to find effective ways — not to close off borders, not to pretend that somehow we can shut off trade, not to forget that we are, ourselves, nations of immigrants and that diversity is our strength — but rather to say, yes, the world is big and we are going to help shape it, and we’re going to value our openness and our diversity, and the fact that we are leaders in a global supply chain but we’re going to do so in ways that make sure everybody benefits — that’s important work that we’re going to have to do together.  And I know Justin shares that commitment just as I do.

Margaret Brennan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate under your administration as contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump.  Do you feel responsibility for that, or even some of the protectionist rhetoric from some Democratic candidates?  Do you have a timeline for when you might make a presidential endorsement?  And to follow on my colleague’s question here, do you feel political heat is constraining your pool of viable Supreme Court nominees?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  It’s a three-fer.  I think it’s important for me to nominate a Supreme Court nominee quickly because I think it’s important for the Supreme Court to have its full complement of justices.  I don’t feel constrained in terms of the pool to draw from or that I’m having to take shortcuts in terms of the selection and vetting process.

With respect to your first question, I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times.  I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel.  (Laughter.)

Look, I’ve said — I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years.  And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country.  But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets — social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations — have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a “them” out there and an “us,” and “them” are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.

And the tone of that politics — which I certainly have not contributed to — I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example.  I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that.  (Laughter.)  Or why don’t you question whether I’m American, or whether I’m loyal, or whether I have America’s best interests at heart — those aren’t things that were prompted by any actions of mine.

And so what you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive.  He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years.

And, in fact, in terms of his positions on a whole range of issues, they’re not very different from any of the other candidates.  It’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration.  Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it, but the actual positions aren’t that different.  For that matter, they’re not that different from Mr. Rubio’s positions on immigration — despite the fact that both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, their own families are the products of immigration and the openness of our society.

So I am more than happy to own the responsibility as President, as the only office holder who was elected by all the American people, to continue to make efforts to bridge divides and help us find common ground.  As I’ve said before, I think that common ground exists all across the country.  You see it every day in how people work together and live together and play together and raise their kids together.  But what I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken.

And what’s interesting — I’ll just say one last thing about this — there are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party.  I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.

Because, ultimately, I want an effective Republican Party.  I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern, and that are prepared to lead and govern whether they’re in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not.  And I’ve often said I want a serious, effective Republican Party — in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party.  I think that’s useful.

You mentioned trade, for example.  I believe that there have been bad trade deals on occasion in the past that oftentimes they have served the interests of global corporations but not necessarily served the interests of workers.  But I’m absolutely persuaded that we cannot put up walls around a global economy, and that to sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade somehow your problems will go away prevents us from actually solving some of these big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base and so on.

And that’s an area where some traditional conservatives and economists have had some important insights.  But they can’t be presented effectively if it’s combined with no interest in helping workers, and busting up unions, and providing tax breaks to the wealthy rather than providing help to folks who are working hard and trying to pay the bills.  And it certainly is not going to be heard if it’s coupled with vehement, anti-immigrant sentiment that betrays our values.

Okay?

Q    And an endorsement, sir?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think that the Democratic voters are doing just fine working this out.  I think it’s useful that we’ve had a vigorous debate among two good people who care deeply about our country and who have fought hard on behalf of working people in this country for a long time.  I think it’s been a good conversation.  And my most important role will be to make sure that after primaries is done I’m bringing everybody together so that we focus on winning the general election.

Q    Mr. President, I’ll be asking the Prime Minister my question in French, but I will repeat for you in English afterwards.

(As interpreted.)  Mr. Trudeau, you have not talked about softwood lumber, and it’s a major problem for the bilateral relations.  Have you thought about solutions to avoid — the conflict reopens in October.  And you signed several agreements  — trade, environment — but what can you do so that the implementations survive the November election and that all of this has to be restarted a year from now?

(Asks in English.) — softwood lumber, which is looming over the bilateral relation?  And has any avenue been explored into avoiding a new conflict in October?  And to what extent is the fear of losing seats for the Democrats due to this issue kind of hampering progress on this?  And that being said, you and Prime Minister Trudeau have signed a number of agreements on a number of issues.  What can be done for this progress not to be lost with the arrival of a new administration and have everything have to be started all over again?

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  (As interpreted.)  For months and months, we have been preparing the meeting.  And this morning, we worked very hard and we made a lot of progress, and we have showed what is at stake.  A lot is at stake.  And we hope that this is going to be solved shortly to help enormously not only Canadian workers and Canadian economy, but also the economy of both our countries.

And among these discussions, of course, we raised the question of softwood lumber.  We keep on working on that.  And I’m totally confident that we are on the right track towards a solution in the next weeks and months to come.

Now, in terms of the decisions that we have taken and the work we have done today, I’m extremely confident that what we have managed to achieve, the agreements that we have taken and the solutions that we have found for the problems that we face together, I’m confident that all this is going to become a reality.  Because at every stage, not only are we talking about what is good for one side or the other side, but we’re talking about what is good for both countries.  Our economies are so interwoven, our populations are so interconnected, that we are going to have agreement, for instance, that will facilitate crossing of borders while increasing security of our citizens.  This is good for both sides.  And it is where we worked so hard together.  There was a lot of progress and a lot of success today.

(Speaks in English.)  — on many different issues over the course of an extremely productive meeting this morning — issues that have been worked on intensely by our respective friends, colleagues and delegations over the past weeks and months.  And certainly softwood lumber came up.  And I’m confident that we are on a track towards resolving this irritant in the coming weeks and months.

But in general, the issues that we made tremendous progress on I’m extremely confident will move forward in a rapid and appropriate fashion because we found such broad agreement on issues that aren’t just good for one of our two countries, but indeed both of our countries.  Canadians and Americans, for their jobs, for our kids and their futures, for workers, businesses, as we tackle challenges on the economy, challenges on the environment, and understand that working together in constructive, productive ways is exactly what this relationship and, indeed, this friendship is all about.

So I’m feeling extremely good about the hard work that was done this morning, and indeed, about the work remaining to do over the coming weeks and months on the issues we brought forward today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  This issue of softwood lumber will get resolved in some fashion.  Our teams are already making progress on it.  It’s been a longstanding bilateral irritant, but hardly defines the nature of the U.S.-Canadian relationship.  And we have some very smart people, and they’ll find a way to resolve it — undoubtedly, to the dissatisfaction of all parties concerned, because that’s the nature of these kinds of things, right?  Each side will want 100 percent, and we’ll find a way for each side to get 60 percent or so of what they need, and people will complain and grumble, but it will be fine.  (Laughter.)

And in terms of continuity — one thing I will say — this is an area where I’ll play the elder statesman, as Alex described me.  (Laughter.)  And as somebody who came in after an administration that, politically, obviously saw things very differently than I did, what you discover is that for all the differences you may have in your political parties, when you’re actually in charge, then you have to be practical, and you do what is needed to be done and what’s in front of you.  And one of the things that is important for the United States, or for Canada, or for any leading power in the world, is to live up to its commitments and to provide continuing momentum on efforts, even if they didn’t start under your administration.

So there were a whole host of initiatives that began under the Bush administration — some that I was very enthusiastic about, like PEPFAR, that has saved millions of lives and prevented HIV/AIDS, or provided vital drugs to those already infected with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world — something that President Bush deserves enormous credit for.  We continued that.

But there are also some areas where, when I was outside the government, I questioned how they were approaching it.  I might have tweaked it.  To the extent that it involved foreign policy, I might say to my foreign policy partners, look, we have a problem of doing it this way, but here is a suggestion for how we can do the same thing, or meet your interests in a slightly different way.

But you’re always concerned about making sure that the credibility of the United States is sustained, or the credibility of Canada is sustained — which is why when there’s turnover in governments, the work that’s been done continues.  And particularly when you have a close friendship and relationship with a partner like Canada, it’s not as if the work we’re doing on the Arctic or on entry and exit visas vanishes when the next President comes in.  Of course, I intend to make sure that the next President who comes in agrees with me on everything.  (Laughter.) But just in case that doesn’t happen, the U.S.-Canadian relationship will be fine.

All right?  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
12:03 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts March 10, 2016: President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Remarks at Arrival Ceremony

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada at Arrival Ceremony

Source: WH, 3-10-16

South Grounds

9:22 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good morning, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning!

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Bonjour.  On behalf of the American people, on behalf of Michelle and myself, it is my honor to welcome to the United States Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — (applause) — Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau, their beautiful children, and the quite good-looking Canadian delegation.  (Applause.)

It’s long been said that you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your neighbors.  (Laughter.)  Well, by virtue of geography, the United States and Canada are blessed to be neighbors.  And by choice, we are steadfast allies and the closest of friends.  (Applause.)  The truth is, though, we don’t express this enough, in part because of our national characters. Our Canadian friends can be more reserved, more easygoing.  We Americans can be a little louder, more boisterous.  And as a result, we haven’t always conveyed how much we treasure our alliance and our ties with our Canadian friends.   And that’s why, today, we are very proud to welcome the first official visit by a Canadian Prime Minister in nearly 20 years.  (Applause.)  It’s about time, eh?  (Laughter.)

And what a beautiful day it is.  Which is a little unfair.  As President, my very first foreign trip was to Canada — to Ottawa in February.  (Laughter.)  In the snow.  Still, our friends from the Great White North gave me a very warm welcome.  Mr. Prime Minister, we hope to reciprocate some of that warmth today, with your first official visit south of the border.

We’re joined today by proud Canadian-Americans.  (Applause.) We are family.  And this is also a special day for the many Canadians who live and work here in America and who enrich our lives every day.  We don’t always realize it, but so often, that neighbor, that coworker, that member of the White House staff, some of our favorite artists and performers — they’re Canadian! (Laughter.)  They sneak up on you.  (Laughter.)

Even as we remember what makes us unique, Americans and Canadians, we see ourselves in each other.  We’re guided by the same values, including our conviction that the blessings we cherish as free people are not gifts to be taken for granted but are precious freedoms that have to be defended anew by every generation.  Americans and Canadians — our brave men and women in uniform — have paid the price together across a century of sacrifice, from the poppy fields of Flanders to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.  As NATO allies, we stand united against terrorism and for the rights of nations like Ukraine to determine their own destiny.  As leaders at the United Nations, we stand up for peace and security and the human rights of all people.

Our shared values also guide us at home.  I’m proud to be the first American President to stand with a Canadian Prime Minister and be able to say that — in both our nations — health care is not a privilege for a few but is now a right for all.  (Applause.)  And as two vast and vibrant societies, we reaffirm that our diversity is our strength — whether your family was among the first native peoples to live on these lands or refugees we welcomed just yesterday.  Whether you pray in a church or a synagogue, or a temple, or a mosque.  Where, no matter what province or state you live in, you have the freedom to marry the person that you love.  (Applause.)

Now, I don’t want to gloss over the very real differences between Americans and Canadians.  There are some things we will probably never agree on:  Whose beer is better.  (Laughter.)  Who’s better at hockey.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Royals!  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We are.  We are.  (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Don’t get me started.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Where’s the Stanley Cup right now?

AUDIENCE:  Ooooh —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I’m sorry.  Is it in my hometown with the Chicago Blackhawks?  (Applause.)  In case you were wondering.  In case you Canadians were wondering, where is it?  (Laughter.)

And this visit is special for another reason.  Nearly 40 years ago, on another March morning, another American President welcomed another Canadian Prime Minister here to the White House. That day, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said that the United States is “Canada’s best friend and ally.”  And one of the reasons, he said, is that we have “a common outlook on the world.”  Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau carries on this work.

Mr. Prime Minister, your election and the first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada but to the relationship between our nations.  We have a common outlook on the world.  And I have to say, I have never seen so many Americans so excited about the visit of a Canadian Prime Minister.  (Applause.)

So with this visit, I believe that the United States and Canada can do even more together — even more to promote the trade and economic partnerships that provide good jobs and opportunities for our people.  Even more to ensure the security that so many Americans and Canadians count on so that they can live in safety and freedom.  Even more to protect our countries and our communities — especially in the Arctic — from climate change, just as we acted together at Paris to reach the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.  (Applause.)  And guided by our values, we can do even more together to advance human development around the world — from saving a child from a preventable disease to giving a student in Africa electricity to study by — because, as Americans and Canadians, we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being.  (Applause.)

As always, our work as nations remains rooted in the friendship between our peoples.  And we see that every day in communities along our shared border.  Up in Hyder, Alaska, folks head across the border to celebrate Canada Day, and folks in Stewart, British Columbia come over for the Fourth of July.  At the baseball diamond in Coutts, Alberta, if you hit a home run, there’s a good chance the ball will land in Sweetgrass, Montana. (Laughter.)  And up where Derby Line, Vermont meets Stanstead, Quebec, Americans and Canadians come together at the local library where the border line literally runs right across the floor.  A resident of one of these border towns once said, we’re two different countries, but we’re like one big town and “people are always there for you.”

So, Prime Minister Trudeau — Justin, Sophie — to all our Canadian friends — we are two different countries, but days like this remind us that we’re like one big town.  And we reaffirm that Americans and Canadians will always be there for each other. Welcome to the United States.  Bienvenue, mes amis.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINSTER TRUDEAU:  Mr. President, First Lady, distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen — thank you for this extraordinary welcome.  Thank you so much for inviting Sophie and me and, through us, all of Canada to join with you on this spectacular morning.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)    Sophie and I, along with our entire delegation, are honored and touched by your magnificent hospitality, and by the reinforcement of just how powerful you are, Mr. President, to organize such a perfect day for us.  (Laughter.)

(Speaks in French, then continues in English.)

You may recall that our government was elected on a plan to strengthen the middle class.  We have an ambitious innovation agenda as we realize that revitalizing our economy will require investing in new ideas and new technologies.  Our plan will foster emerging industries, create good jobs, and increase our global competitiveness.  That was the Canadian plan, and of course, it very much resembles the challenges and the solutions that you’ve been putting forward here south of the border — a plan to invest in our country and invest in our people.  And it’s wonderful to see that our American friends and partners share and are working on the exact same objectives.

See, as our leading trading partner and closest ally, the relationship between our two countries has always been vital.  As an exporting nation, Canada is always eager to work closely to reduce trade barriers between our countries.  And speaking of exports, we know with certainty that there’s a high demand for Canadian goods down here.  A few that come to mind that President Obama just rightly recognized as being extraordinary contributors to the American success story is Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks.  (Applause.)

We’ve faced many challenges over the course of our shared history.  And while we have agreed on many things and disagreed on a few others, we remain united in a common purpose — allies, partners, and friends as we tackle the world’s great challenges. Whether we’re charting a course for environmental protection, making key investments to grow our middle class, or defending the rights of oppressed peoples abroad, Canada and the United States will always collaborate in partnership and good faith.  The history may be complex, but the bottom line is clear.  There is no relationship in the entire world like the Canada-U.S. relationship.  (Applause.)

Our great countries have been friends a long time.  We grew up together.  And like all great enduring friendships, at our best, we bring out the best in one another.  And through it all, our enormous shared accomplishments speak for themselves — prosperous, free, diverse societies that have shaped history together.

We could not be prouder of that past.  And on behalf of 36 million Canadians, I thank you all for your warm welcome.  Now let’s get to work on shaping our shared future.

Merci beaucoup.  (Applause.)

END
9:37 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts March 6, 2016: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Statement on Nancy Reagan’s death

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President and the First Lady

Source: WH, 3-6-16

Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice.

Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here. Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.

We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren. And we remain grateful for Nancy Reagan’s life, thankful for her guidance, and prayerful that she and her beloved husband are together again.

###

Full Text Political Transcripts February 23, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Plan to Close the Prison at Guantanamo Bay

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Plan to Close the Prison at Guantanamo Bay

Source: WH, 2-23-16

 

Roosevelt Room

10:30 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  In our fight against terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, we are using every element of our national power — our military; intelligence; diplomacy; homeland security; law enforcement, federal, state and local; as well as the example of our ideals as a country that’s committed to universal values, including rule of law and human rights.  In this fight, we learn and we work to constantly improve.  When we find something that works, we keep on doing it.  When it becomes clear that something is not working as intended — when it does not advance our security — we have to change course.

For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it.  This is not just my opinion.  This is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military.  It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.  It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.  Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism.  When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved.

Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values.  It undermines our standing in the world.  It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.  As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law.  But 15 years after 9/11 — 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history — we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks — not a single one.

When I first ran for President, it was widely recognized that this facility needed to close.  This was not just my opinion.  This was not some radical, far-left view.  There was bipartisan support to close it.  My predecessor, President Bush, to his credit, said he wanted to close it.  It was one of the few things that I and my Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, agreed on.

And so, in one of my first acts as President, I took action to begin closing it.  And because we had bipartisan support, I wanted to make sure that we did it right.  I indicated that we would need to take our time to do it in a systematic way, and that we had examined all the options.

And unfortunately, during that period where we were putting the pieces in place to close it, what had previously been bipartisan support suddenly became a partisan issue.  Suddenly, many you previously had said it should be closed backed off because they were worried about the politics.  The public was scared into thinking that, well, if we close it, somehow we’ll be less safe.  And since that time, Congress has repeatedly imposed restrictions aimed at preventing us from closing this facility.

Now, despite the politics, we’ve made progress.  Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other countries.  More than 500 of these transfers, by the way, occurred under President Bush.  Since I took office, we’ve so far transferred 147 more, each under new, significant restrictions to keep them from returning to the battlefield.  And as a result of these actions, today, just 91 detainees remain — less than 100.

Today, the Defense Department, thanks to very hard work by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, as well as his team, working in concert with the Office of Management and Budget, today, the Department is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all.  It’s a plan that reflects the hard work of my entire national security team, so I especially want to thank Ash and his team at DOD.  This plan has my full support.  It reflects our best thinking on how to best go after terrorists and deal with those who we may capture, and it is a strategy with four main elements.

First, we’ll continue to securely and responsibly transfer to other countries the 35 detainees — out of the 91 — that have already been approved for transfer.  Keep in mind, this process involves extensive and careful coordination across our federal government to ensure that our national security interests are met when an individual is transferred to another country.  So, for example, we insist that foreign countries institute strong security measures.  And as we move forward, that means that we will have around 60 — and potentially even fewer — detainees remaining.

Second, we’ll accelerate the periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary.  Our review board, which includes representatives from across government, will continue to look at all relevant information, including current intelligence.  And if certain detainees no longer pose a continuing significant threat, they may be eligible for transfer to another country as well.

Number three, we’ll continue to use all legal tools to deal with the remaining detainees still held under law of war detention.  Currently, 10 detainees are in some stage of the military commissions process — a process that we worked hard to reform in my first year in office with bipartisan support from Congress.  But I have to say, with respect to these commissions, they are very costly, they have resulted in years of litigation without a resolution.  We’re therefore outlining additional changes to improve these commissions, which would require congressional action, and we will be consulting with them in the near future on that issue.

I also want to point out that, in contrast to the commission process, our Article 3 federal courts have proven to have an outstanding record of convicting some of the most hardened terrorists.  These prosecutions allow for the gathering of intelligence against terrorist groups.  It proves that we can both prosecute terrorists and protect the American people.  So think about it — terrorists like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon — they were all convicted in our Article III courts and are now behind bars, here in the United States.

So we can capture terrorists, protect the American people, and when done right, we can try them and put them in our maximum security prisons, and it works just fine.  And in this sense, the plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo.  It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened.  This is about closing a chapter in our history.  It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11 –lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.

So even as we use military commissions to close out the cases of some current detainees — which, given the unique circumstances of their cases make it difficult for them to be tried in Article 3 courts — this type of use of military commissions should not set a precedent for the future.  As they have been in past wars, military commissions will continue to be an option when individuals are detained during battle.  But our preferred option, the most effective option for dealing with individuals detained outside military theaters, must be our strong, proven federal courts.

Fourth, and finally, we’re going to work with Congress to find a secure location in the United States to hold remaining detainees.  These are detainees who are subject to military commissions, but it also includes those who cannot yet be transferred to other countries or who we’ve determined must continue to be detained because they pose a continuing significant threat to the United States.

We are not identifying a specific facility today in this plan.  We are outlining what options look like.  As Congress has imposed restrictions that currently prevent the transfer of detainees to the United States, we recognize that this is going to be a challenge.  And we’re going to keep making the case to Congress that we can do this is a responsible and secure way, taking into account the lessons and great record of our maximum-security prisons.

And let me point out, the plan we’re submitting today is not only the right thing to do for our security, it will also save money.  The Defense Department estimates that this plan, compared to keeping Guantanamo open, would lower costs by up to $85 million a year.  Over 10 years, it would generate savings of more than $300 million.  Over 20 years, the savings would be up to $1.7 billion.  In other words, we can ensure our security, uphold our highest values around the world, and save American taxpayers a lot of money in the process.

So in closing, I want to say I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo.  The politics of this are tough.  I think a lot of the American public are worried about terrorism, and in their mind the notion of having terrorists held in the United States rather than in some distant place can be scary.  But part of my message to the American people here is we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists here in the United States because we threw the book at them.  And there have been no incidents.  We’ve managed it just fine.

And in Congress, I recognize, in part because of some of the fears of the public that have been fanned oftentimes by misinformation, there continues to be a fair amount of opposition to doing closing Guantanamo.  If it were easy, it would have happened years ago — as I wanted, as I have been working to try to get done.  But there remains bipartisan support for closing it.  And given the stakes involved for our security, this plan deserves a fair hearing.  Even in an election year, we should be able to have an open, honest, good-faith dialogue about how to best ensure our national security.  And the fact that I’m no longer running, Joe is no longer running, we’re not on the ballot — it gives us the capacity to not have to worry about the politics.

Let us do what is right for America.  Let us go ahead and close this chapter, and do it right, do it carefully, do it in a way that makes sure we’re safe, but gives the next President and, more importantly, future generations, the ability to apply the lessons we’ve learned in the fight against terrorism and doing it in a way that doesn’t raise some of the problems that Guantanamo has raised.

I really think there’s an opportunity here for progress.  I believe we’ve got an obligation to try.  President Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo despite everything that he had invested in it.  I give him credit for that.  There was an honest assessment on his part about what needed to happen.  But he didn’t get it done and it was passed to me.  I’ve been working for seven years now to get this thing closed.  As President, I have spent countless hours dealing with this — I do not exaggerate about that.  Our closest allies have raised it with me continually.  They often raise specific cases of detainees repeatedly.

I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next President, whoever it is.  And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?  Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years, another 30 years?  If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and of justice, and our best American traditions was clear.

So, again, I want to thank Secretary Carter.  You and your team did an outstanding job, and you’ve shown great leadership on this issue.  With this plan, we have the opportunity, finally, to eliminate a terrorist propaganda tool, strengthen relationships with allies and partners, enhance our national security, and, most importantly, uphold the values that define us as Americans.  I’m absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo.  I’m going to continue to make the case for doing so for as long as I hold this office.  But this is a good moment for everybody to step back, take a look at the facts, take a look at the views of those who have been most committed to fighting terrorism and understand this stuff — our operatives, our intelligence officials, our military.  Let’s go ahead and get this thing done.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
10:45 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 18, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Black History Month Reception

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Black History Month Reception

Source: WH, 2-18-16

East Room

4:51 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Well, it is so good to see all of you.  Welcome to the White House.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you!  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  And we know it is Black History Month when you hear somebody say “Hey, Michelle!”  (Laughter.)  “Girl!  You look so good!”  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  So do you!

MRS. OBAMA:  He’s all right.

You look good, too, baby.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  I want to thank everybody who’s here this evening, this afternoon.  I want to give a special thanks to the members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus who are here tonight.  Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

For the past seven years — now, come on, y’all.  (Laughter.)  I’m only going to be a second.

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s exciting.

THE PRESIDENT:  Except for that little guy.  He’s hungry.  (Laughter.)

For the past seven years, and in some cases before that, the people in this room have been incredible supporters of me and Michelle.  And we could not be more grateful for everything you’ve done for us, everything you’ve done for the country.  And so I just want to start off by saying thank you.  (Applause.)  Yes!  Yes!

Now, we gather to celebrate Black History Month, and from our earliest days, black history has been American history.  (Applause.)  We’re the slaves who quarried the stone to build this White House; the soldiers who fought for our nation’s independence, who fought to hold this union together, who fought for freedom of others around the world.  We’re the scientists and inventors who helped unleash American innovation.  We stand on the shoulders not only of the giants in this room, but also countless, nameless heroes who marched for equality and justice for all of us.

Down through the decades, African American culture has profoundly shaped American culture — in music and art, literature and sports.  I want to give a special acknowledgment to my lovely wife — (applause) — because just last week she hosted a performance of African American women and girls in dance.  And we had luminaries like Debbie Allen and Judith Jamison — (applause) — working with the next generation of outstanding young black dancers.  I understand it was a pretty special event.  It was, apparently, an incredible event.  I was not invited.  (Laughter.)  My dance moves did not make the cut.  (Laughter.)

So we are so proud to honor this rich heritage.  But Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history — (applause) — or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington, or from some of our sports heroes.   There are well-meaning attempts to do that all around us, from classrooms to corporate ad campaigns.  But we know that this should be more than just a commemoration of particular events.

It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America.  It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future.  It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.

That’s why earlier today, we hosted an intergenerational roundtable of civil rights leaders to talk about today’s efforts to reform our criminal justice system.  So we had icons of the Civil Rights Movement that helped get me here — folks like Reverend C.T. Vivian and John Lewis — (applause.)  But they were with up-and-coming change-makers like Stephen Green of the NAACP Youth and College Division, or Brittany Packnett of Campaign Zero —

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Brittany!

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah!  Who is a member of our 21st Century Police Task Force.  And to hear the incredible contributions these young people were making, and to see how their courage and tenacity was connected to those who had lived through Bloody Sunday — it made you optimistic about a future.  It was powerful to see the fathers and the mothers of the Movement in this constant interaction, understanding that each successive generation has to take the baton and move us forward.

And what’s so inspiring about these young people and their generation is that they don’t see black history as a relic; it’s not something to study in a book.  They don’t see themselves as distant from that history — they are participants, making history.  It’s alive, something that we have the power and the responsibility to shape and to wield.

The Civil Rights Movement grew out of church basements and word of mouth, and drew strength from freedom songs and the power of young people’s examples.  And thanks to technology and social media, today’s leaders are building a new, inclusive movement that’s mobilizing people of all backgrounds to stand up for change — from equal opportunity in education to a smarter criminal justice system, one that’s effective in keeping us safe but also makes sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law.

So I want to give a special shout-out to young people here today — (applause) — and tell them we want them to continue doing what they’re doing.

And that’s the thing about our democracy.  It takes all of us.  It’s important that we have responsive elected officials.   Supreme Court appointments are important.  (Applause.)  But ultimately, everything comes down to the constant perseverance, the courage, the tenacity, the vision of citizens like you, making sure not only you exercise your right to vote, but that in between elections you are part of a constant movement in your local communities, or at the national level, or at an international level, to bring about the kind of change from which all of us in this room have benefitted because of the labors of somebody who came before us.

America is a nation that is a constant work in progress.  That’s why we are exceptional.  We don’t stop.  There’s a gap — there always will be — between who we are and the “perfect union,” that ideal that we see.  But what makes us exceptional,  what makes us Americans is that we fight wars and pass laws, and we march, and we organize unions, and we stage protests, and that gap gets smaller over time.  And it’s that effort to form a “more perfect union” that marks us as a people.

As long as we keep at it, as long as we don’t get discouraged, as long as we are out there fighting the good fight not just on one day, or one month, but every single day, and every single month, I have no doubt that we’re going to live up to the promise of our founding ideals — and that all these young children who are standing in front, no matter who they are or where they come from, they’re going to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Thanks, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
5:01 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 10, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in Address to the Illinois General Assembly

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Address to the Illinois General Assembly

Source: WH, 2-10-16

15

1:03 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey!  (Applause.)  Thank you!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much!  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you!  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  Thank you so much.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the General Assembly, my fellow Illinoisans:  It’s actually kind of fun to start a speech like that twice in one month.  (Laughter.)

What an incredible privilege it is to address this chamber. And to Governor Rauner, Senator Durbin, members of Congress, Speaker Madigan, Former Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Langfelder and the people of Springfield — thank you for such a warm welcome as I come back home.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  It’s good to be home.  (Applause.)  Thank you, guys. Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  It is great to see so many old friends like John Cullerton and Emil Jones.  I miss you guys.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Miss you!  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s great to be in the State Capitol.  Being here today calls to mind the first time I spoke on the Senate floor, almost 20 years ago.  And I was passionate, idealistic, ready to make a difference.  Just to stand in that magnificent chamber was enough to fill me up with a heightened sense of purpose.

And I probably needed a little dose of reality when I first arrived.  So one day, I rose to speak about a bill.  And I thought I’d made some compelling points, with irrefutable logic. (Laughter.)  And I was about to sit down, feeling pretty good about myself, when Pate Philip sauntered over to my desk.  Now, there are some young people here, so for those of you who don’t remember, Pate Philip was the Senate Majority Leader at the time. He was a Marine, and big shock of white hair, chomped on a cigar; was so politically incorrect that you don’t even know how to describe it.  (Laughter.)  But he always treated me well.  And he came by and he slapped me on the back, he said, “Kid, that was a pretty good speech.  In fact, I think you changed a lot of minds. But you didn’t change any votes.”  (Laughter.)  Then he singled, and they gaveled, and we got blown out.  (Laughter.)

So that was my first lesson in humility.  The next came when I presented my own first bill.  It was a simple piece of legislation that would make it a lot easier for Illinois manufacturers to hire graduating community college students.  I didn’t know any serious opposition, so I asked for a vote.  And what I got was a good hazing.  I assume that this custom still exists.  (Applause and laughter.)

So a senior colleague put the vote on hold to ask, “Could you correctly pronounce your name for me?  I’m having a little trouble with it.”  “Obama,” I said.  “Is that Irish?” he asked.  (Laughter.)  And being in my early 30s at the time, I was a little cocky — I said, “It will be when I run countywide.”  (Laughter.)  “That was a good joke,” he said, but he wasn’t amused.  “This bill is still going to die.”

And he went on to complain that my predecessor’s name was easier to pronounce than mine, that I didn’t have cookies at my desk like she did, how would I ever expect to get any votes without having cookies on my desk.  “I definitely urge a no vote,” he said, “whatever your name is.”  (Laughter.)

And for the next several minutes, the Senate debated on whether I should add an apostrophe to my name for the Irish, or whether the fact that “Obama” ends in a vowel meant I actually belonged to the Italians — (laughter) — and just how many trees had had to die to print this terrible, miserable bill, anyway.

And I was chastened.  And I said, “If I survive this event, I will be eternally grateful and consider this a highlight of my legal and legislative career.”  And I asked for a vote.  And initially the tote board showed that it was going down, but at the last minute it flipped and my bill passed.  But I was duly reminded that I was a freshman in the minority.  And I want to thank all my former colleagues in both chambers for not letting me forget it.

To be a rookie in the minority party, as I was, is not much fun in any legislature.  We were called “mushrooms” — because we were kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure.  (Laughter.)  But one benefit of being in such a position — not being invited into the meetings where the big deals were being made — is that I had a lot of time to get to know my colleagues.  And many of us were away from our families, and so we became friends.

We went to fish fries together.  We’d go to union halls.  We’d play in golf scrambles.  We had a great bipartisan poker game at the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association.  Boro Relijie would host, and folks like Dave Luechtefeld and Terry Link, others would join in.  We’d eat downstairs — and I can’t say I miss the horseshoes.  (Laughter.)  But away from the glare of TV, or the tweets, or the GIFs of today’s media, what we discovered was that despite our surface differences — Democrats and Republicans, downstate hog farmers, inner-city African Americans, suburban businesspeople, Latinos from Pilsen or Little Village — despite those differences, we actually had a lot in common.  We cared about our communities.  We cared about our families.  We cared about America.

We fought hard for our positions.  I don’t want to be nostalgic here — we voted against each other all the time.  And party lines held most of the time.  But those relationships, that trust we’d built meant that we came at each debate assuming the best in one another and not the worst.

I was reminiscing with Christine Radogno — we came in in the same class.  And we were on opposite sides of most issues, but I always trusted her and believed that she was a good person. And if we had a bill that we might be able to work together on, it was a pleasure to work with her on.  Or Dave Syverson, who — we worked together on the Public Health and Welfare Committee, and we got some important work done that made a difference in people’s lives.

And we didn’t call each other idiots or fascists who were trying to destroy America.  Because then we’d have to explain why we were playing poker or having a drink with an idiot or a fascist who was trying to destroy America.  (Laughter.)

And that respect gave us room for progress.  And after I’d served here for six years, my party finally gained the majority. Emil Jones became the President of the Senate.  And by then, I had made some friends across the aisle — like Kirk Dillard, who I believe is here today, and we were able to pass the first serious ethics reform in 25 years.  And working closely with law enforcement, who knew by then that we cared about cops and sheriffs and prosecutors.  And working with folks like John Cullerton, we passed Illinois’ first racial profiling law, which was good for police officers and minority communities.

And because someone like my friend, John Bouman, who worked at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, helped us build coalitions across the state, including with business, and was able to then reach out to Republicans, we were able to increase tax credits for the working poor and expand health insurance to children in need.

And we wouldn’t bend on our most deeply held principles, but we were willing to forge compromises in pursuit of a larger goal. We were practical when we needed to be.  We could fight like heck on one issue and then shake hands on the next.  Somebody like Jesse White was able to travel around the state and people didn’t even know what party he was necessarily from because he brought so much joy with the tumblers and the work that they were doing.

So I want you to know that this is why I’ve always believed so deeply in a better kind of politics, in part because of what I learned here in this legislature.  Because of what I learned traveling across the state, visiting some of your districts, before I was running statewide, before I was a U.S. senator; learning all the corners of this state — this most-representative of states.  A state of small towns and rich farmland, and the world’s greatest city.  A microcosm of America, where Democrats and Republicans and independents, and good people of every ethnicity and every faith shared certain bedrock values.

I just saw a story the other day showing that if you rank all 50 states across categories like education levels and household incomes, and race and religion, the one state that most closely mirrors America as a whole is Illinois, this state.

And I learned by talking to your constituents that if you were willing to listen, it was possible to bridge a lot of differences.  I learned that most Americans aren’t following the ins and outs of the legislature carefully, but they instinctively know that issues are more complicated than rehearsed sound bites; that they play differently in different parts of the state and in the country.  They understand the difference between realism and idealism; the difference between responsibility and recklessness. They had the maturity to know what can and cannot be compromised, and to admit the possibility that the other side just might have a point.

And it convinced me that if we just approached our national politics the same way the American people approach their daily lives –- at the workplace, at the Little League game; at church or the synagogue — with common sense, and a commitment to fair play and basic courtesy, that there is no problem that we couldn’t solve together.

And that was the vision that guided me when I first ran for the United States Senate.  That’s the vision I shared when I said we are more than just a collection of red states and blue states, but we are the United States of America.  And that vision is why, nine years ago today, on the steps of the Old State Capitol just a few blocks from here, I announced my candidacy for President.

Now, over these nine years, I want you to know my faith in the generosity and the fundamental goodness of the American people has been rewarded and affirmed over and over and over again.  I’ve seen it in the determination of autoworkers who had been laid off but were sure that they could once again be part of a great, iconic Americans industry.  I’ve seen it in the single mom who goes back to school even as she’s working and looking after her kids because she wants a better life for that next generation.  I’ve seen it the vision and risk-taking of small businessmen.  I’ve seen it time and time again in the courage of our troops.

But it’s been noted often by pundits that the tone of our politics hasn’t gotten better since I was inaugurated, in fact it’s gotten worse; that there’s still this yawning gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics.  Which is why, in my final State of the Union address, and in the one before that, I had to acknowledge that one of my few regrets is my inability to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics.  I was able to be part of that here and yet couldn’t translate it the way I wanted to into our politics in Washington.

And people ask me why I’ve devoted so much time to this topic.  And I tell them it’s not just because I’m President, and the polarization and the gridlock are frustrating to me.  The fact is we’ve gotten a heck of a lot done these past seven years, despite the gridlock.  We saved the economy from a depression.  We brought back an auto industry from the brink of collapse.  We helped our businesses create 14 million new jobs over the past six years.  We cut the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 4.9 percent.  We covered nearly 18 million more Americans with health insurance.  We ignited a clean energy revolution.  We got bin Laden.  We brought the vast majority of our troops home to their families.  (Applause.)  We got a lot done.  We’re still getting a lot done.

And our political system helped make these things possible, and the list could go on.  There’s no doubt America is better off today than when I took office.  (Applause.)  I didn’t want this to be a State of Union speech where we have the standing up and the sitting down.  (Laughter.)  Come on, guys, you know better than that.  (Laughter and applause.)  No, no, no, I’ve got a serious point to make here.  I’ve got a serious point to make here because this is part of the issue, right?  We have an importation of our politics nationally, and on cable and talk radio, and it seeps into everything.

The point I’m trying to make is I care about fixing our politics not only because I’m the President today, or because some of my initiatives have been blocked by Congress — that happens to every President, happens to every governor, happens to everybody who participates — anybody who participates in a democracy.  You’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want all the time.

The reason this is important to me is, next year I’ll still hold the most important title of all, and that’s the title of citizen.  And as an American citizen, I understand that our progress is not inevitable — our progress has never been inevitable.  It must be fought for, and won by all of us, with the kind of patriotism that our fellow Illinoisan, Adlai Stevenson, once described not as a “short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”  It requires citizenship and a sense that we are one.

And today that kind of citizenship is threatened by a poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating in our public life.  It turns folks off.  It discourages them, makes them cynical.  And when that happens, more powerful and extreme voices fill the void.  When that happens, progress stalls.  And that’s how we end up with only a handful of lobbyists setting the agenda.  That’s how we end up with policies that are detached from what working families face every day.  That’s how we end up with the well-connected who publicly demand that government stay out of their business but then whisper in its ear for special treatment.

That’s how our political system gets consumed by small things when we are a people that are called to do great things — to give everybody a shot in a changing economy; to keep America safe and strong in an uncertain world; to repair our climate before it threatens everything we leave for our kids.

So that’s what’s on my mind as I come back to Illinois today.  This is what will be a focus of mine over the course of this year and beyond:  What can we do, all of us, together, to try to make our politics better?  And I speak to both sides on this.  As all of you know, it could be better, and all of you would feel prouder of the work you do if it was better.

So, first, let’s put to rest a couple of myths about our politics.  One is the myth that the problems with our politics are new.  They are not.  American politics has never been particularly gentle or high-minded — especially not during times of great change.

As I mentioned when I visited a mosque in Maryland last week, Thomas Jefferson’s opponent tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim.  So I’m in good company.  (Laughter.) But that’s nothing compared to the newspaper which warned that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”  (Laughter.)  His Vice President, Aaron Burr, literally killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.  (Laughter.)  I don’t even want to tell you what Andrew Jackson’s opponents said about his mamma.  (Laughter.)  Lincoln, himself, was routinely called “weak, wishy-washy,” a “yahoo,” “an unshapely man,” “the obscene ape of Illinois,” and, my favorite — a “facetious pettifogger.”  I don’t know what that means — (laughter) –but it sounds insulting.

So, comparatively speaking, today is not that bad — as long as you’ve got a thick skin.  (Laughter.)  As Harold Washington once said:  “Politics ain’t beanbag.”  It’s tough.  And that’s okay.

There’s also the notion sometimes that our politics are broken because politicians are significantly more corrupt or beholden to big money than they used to be.  There’s no doubt that lobbyists still have easier access to the halls of power than the average American.  There’s a lot of work that we need to do to make sure that the system works for ordinary people and not just the well-connected.  That’s true at the federal level; that’s true at the state level.  Folks aren’t entirely wrong when they feel as if the system too often is rigged and does not address their interests.

But, relative to the past, listen, I’m confident we’ve got enough rules and checks to prevent anyone in my Cabinet from siphoning whiskey tax revenue into their own pockets like President Grant’s administration did.  Until FDR went after the ward bosses of Tammany Hall, they controlled judges and politicians as they pleased — patronage, bribery, and money laundering.  It’s not as easy as it was to whip up tens of thousands of phantom votes, whether in Chicago or South Texas.

From the Teapot Dome to Watergate, history tells us we should always be vigilant and demand that our public servants follow the highest ethical standards.  But the truth is that the kind of corruption that is blatant, of the sort that we saw in the past, is much less likely in today’s politics.  And the Justice Department and the media work hard to keep it that way.  And that’s a very good thing.  So we don’t want to romanticize the past and think somehow it’s a difference in the people being elected.

And it also isn’t true that today’s issues are inherently more polarizing than the past.  I remember, we endured four years of Civil War that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.  This country was divided on a fundamental question.

Before Pearl Harbor, entering into World War II was a highly charged debate.  The fault lines of Vietnam, the culture wars of the ‘60s — they still echo into our politics a half-century later.

We’ve been arguing since our founding over the proper size and role of government; the meaning of individual freedom and equality; over war and peace, and the best way to give all of our citizens opportunity.  And these are important debates that everybody should join, with all the rigor that a free people require.

My point is, the problem is not that politicians are worse, the problem is not that the issues are tougher.  And so it’s important for us to understand that the situation we find ourselves in today is not somehow unique or hopeless.  We’ve always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck.  And when that happens, we have to find a new way of doing business.

We’re in one of those moments.  We’ve got to build a better politics — one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas; one that’s less of a business and more of a mission; one that understands the success of the American experiment rests on our willingness to engage all our citizens in this work.

And that starts by acknowledging that we do have a problem. And we all know it.  What’s different today is the nature and the extent of the polarization.  How ideologically divided the parties are is brought about by some of the same long-term trends in our politics and our culture.  The parties themselves have become more homogenous than ever.  A great sorting has taken place that drove Southern conservatives out of the Democratic Party, Northern moderates out of the Republican Party, so you don’t have within each party as much diversity of views.

And you’ve got a fractured media.  Some folks watch FOX News; some folks read the Huffington Post.  And very often, what’s profitable is the most sensational conflict and the most incendiary sound bites.  And we can choose our own facts.  We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.  I mean, if I listened to some of these conservative pundits, I wouldn’t vote for me either.  I sound like a scary guy.  (Laughter.)

You’ve got advocacy groups that, frankly, sometimes benefit from keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.  Unlimited dark money — money that nobody knows where it’s coming from, who’s paying — drowns out ordinary voices.  And far too many of us surrender our voices entirely by choosing not to vote.  And this polarization is pervasive and it seeps into our society to the point where surveys even suggest that many Americans wouldn’t want their kids to date someone from another political party.  Now, some of us don’t want our kids dating, period.  But that’s a losing battle. (Laughter.)

But this isn’t just an abstract problem for political scientists.  This has real impact on whether or not we can get things done together.  This has a real impact on whether families are able to support themselves, or whether the homeless are getting shelter on a cold day.  It makes a difference as to the quality of the education that kids are getting.  This is not an abstraction.

But so often, these debates, particularly in Washington but increasingly in state legislatures, become abstractions.  It’s as if there are no people involved, it’s just cardboard cutouts and caricatures of positions.  It encourages the kind of ideological fealty that rejects any compromise as a form of weakness.  And in a big, complicated democracy like ours, if we can’t compromise, by definition, we can’t govern ourselves.

Look, I am a progressive Democrat.  I am proud of that.  I make no bones about it.  (Applause.)   I’m going to make another point here.  I believe that people should have access to health care.  I believe they should have access to a good public education.  I believe that workers deserve a higher minimum wage. I believe that collective bargaining is critical to the prospects of the middle class, and that pensions are vital to retirement, as long as they’re funded responsibly.  (Applause.)

Hold on a second.  Hold on a second.  (Applause.)  Sit down, Democrats.  Sit down.  Sit down — just for a second.  I appreciate that, but I want to make this larger point.  (Laughter.)

I believe we’re judged by how we care for the poor and the vulnerable.  I believe that in order to live up to our ideals, we have to continually fight discrimination in all its forms.   (Applause.)  I believe in science, and the science behind things like climate change, and that a transition to cleaner sources of energy will help preserve the planet for future generations.  (Applause.)

I believe in a tough, smart foreign policy that says America will never hesitate to protect our people and our allies, but that we should use every element of our power and never rush to war.

Those are the things I believe.  But here’s the point I want to make.  I believe that there are a lot of Republicans who share many of these same values, even though they may disagree with me on the means to achieve them.  I think sometimes my Republican colleagues make constructive points about outdated regulations that may need to be changed, or programs that even though well-intended, didn’t always work the way they were supposed to.

And where I’ve got an opportunity to find some common ground, that doesn’t make me a sellout to my own party.  (Applause.)  That applies — (laughter) — well, we’ll talk later, Duncan.  (Applause.)  This is what happens, everybody starts cherry-picking.  (Laughter.)  One thing I’ve learned is folks don’t change.  (Laughter.)

So trying to find common ground doesn’t make me less of a Democrat or less of a progressive.  It means I’m trying to get stuff done.

And the same applies to a Republican who, heaven forbid, might agree with me on a particular issue — or if I said America is great, decided to stand during a State of Union.  It’s not a controversial proposition.  (Laughter.)  You’re not going to get in trouble.  (Applause.)

But the fact that that’s hard to do is a testament to how difficult our politics has become.  Because folks are worried, well, I’m going to get yelled at by you, or this blogger is going to write that, or this talk show host is going to talk about me, and suddenly I’ve got to challenger, and calling me a RINO or a not a real progressive.

So when I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I’m not impressed.  All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments — like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe.  (Applause.)

It cuts both ways, guys.  See, suddenly everybody is standing.  This is fascinating to watch.  (Laughter.)  The point is, it cuts both ways.

Our Founders trusted us with the keys to this system of self-government.  Our politics is the place where we try to make this incredible machinery work; where we come together to settle our differences and solve big problems, do big things together that we could not possibly do alone.  And our Founders anchored all this in a visionary Constitution that separates power and demands compromise, precisely to prevent one party, or one wing of a party, or one faction, or some powerful interests from getting 100 percent of its way.

So when either side makes blanket promises to their base that it can’t possibly meet — tax cuts without cuts to services — “everything will be fine, but we won’t spend any money” — war without shared sacrifice — “we’re going to be tough, but don’t worry, it will be fine” — union bashing or corporate bashing without acknowledging that both workers and businesses make our economy run — that kind of politics means that the supporters will be perennially disappointed.  It only adds to folks’ sense that the system is rigged.  It’s one of the reasons why we see these big electoral swings every few years.  It’s why people are so cynical.

Now, I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this.  These trends will not change overnight.  If I did, I would have already done them through an executive action.  (Laughter and applause.) That was just a joke, guys.  Relax.  (Laughter.)   A sense of humor is also helpful.

But I do want to offer some steps that we can take that I believe would help reform our institutions and move our system in a way that helps reflect our better selves.  And these aren’t particularly original, but I just want to go ahead and mention them.

First is to take, or at least reduce, some of the corrosive influence of money in our politics.  (Applause.)

Now, this year, just over 150 families — 150 families — have spent as much on the presidential race as the rest of America combined.  Today, a couple of billionaires in one state can push their agenda, dump dark money into every state — nobody knows where it’s coming from — mostly used on these dark ads, everybody is kind of dark and the worst picture possible.  (Laughter.)  And there’s some ominous voice talking about how they’re destroying the country.

And they spend this money based on some ideological preference that really is disconnected to the realities of how people live.  They’re not that concerned about the particulars of what’s happening in a union hall in Galesburg, and what folks are going through trying to find a job.  They’re not particularly familiar with what’s happening at a VFW post.  (Phone rings.)  Somebody’s phone is on.  (Laughter.)  In Carbondale.  They haven’t heard personally from farmers outside of the Quads and what they’re going through.  Those are the voices that should be outweighing a handful of folks with a lot of money.  I’m not saying the folks with a lot of money should have no voice; I’m saying they shouldn’t be able to drown out everybody else’s.

And that’s why I disagree with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  (Applause.)  I don’t believe that money is speech, or that political spending should have no limits, or that it shouldn’t be disclosed.  I still support a constitutional amendment to set reasonable limits on financial influence in America’s elections.

But amending the Constitution is an extremely challenging and time-consuming process — as it should be.  So we’re going to have to come up with more immediate ways to reduce the influence of money in politics.  There are a lot of good proposals out there, and we have to work to find ones that can gain some bipartisan support — because a handful of families and hidden interests shouldn’t be able to bankroll elections in the greatest democracy on Earth.

The second step towards a better politics is rethinking the way that we draw our congressional districts.  (Applause.)  Now, let me point this out — I want to point this out, because this is another case of cherry-picking here.  (Laughter.)  This tends to be popular in states where Democrats have been drawing the lines among Republicans, and less popular among Republicans where they control drawing the lines.  (Applause.)  So let’s be very clear here — nobody has got clean hands on this thing.  Nobody has got clean hands on this thing.

The fact is, today technology allows parties in power to precision-draw constituencies so that the opposition’s supporters are packed into as few districts as possible.  That’s why our districts are shaped like earmuffs or spaghetti.  (Laughter.)  It’s also how one party can get more seats even when it gets fewer votes.

And while this gerrymandering may insulate some incumbents from a serious challenge from the other party, it also means that the main thing those incumbents are worried about are challengers from the most extreme voices in their own party.  That’s what’s happened in Congress.  You wonder why Congress doesn’t work?  The House of Representatives there, there may be a handful — less than 10 percent — of districts that are even competitive at this point.  So if you’re a Republican, all you’re worried about is what somebody to your right is saying about you, because you know you’re not going to lose a general election.  Same is true for a lot of Democrats.  So our debates move away from the middle, where most Americans are, towards the far ends of the spectrum.  And that polarizes us further.

Now, this is something we have the power to fix.  And once the next census rolls around and we have the most up-to-date picture of America’s population, we should change the way our districts are drawn.  In America, politicians should not pick their voters; voters should pick their politicians.  (Applause.) And this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states.  It should be done everywhere.  (Applause.)

Now, the more Americans use their voice and participate, the less captive our politics will be to narrow constituencies.  No matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run, no matter how unrepresentative a district is drawn, if everybody voted, if a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of these other institutional barriers.  It would make our politics better.

And that’s why a third step towards a better politics is making voting easier, not harder; and modernizing it for the way that we live now.  (Applause.)

Now, this shouldn’t be controversial, guys.  You liked the redistricting thing, but not letting people vote.  I should get some applause on that, too.  (Applause.)

Listen, three years ago, I set up a bipartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  It had the election lawyers from my campaign and from Mitt Romney’s campaign.  They got together outside of the context of immediate politics.  And I actually want to thank this assembly for moving to adopt some of its recommendations.  Thanks to the good work of my dear friend, Senator Don Harmon, and many of you, there’s a new law going into effect this year that will allow Illinoisans to register and vote at the polls on Election Day.  (Applause.)  It expands early voting — something that makes it a lot easier for working folks and busy parents to go vote.

Think about it.  If you’re a single mom, and you’ve got to take public transportation to punch a clock, work round the clock, get home, cook dinner on a Tuesday in bad weather — that’s tough.  Why would we want to make it so that she couldn’t do it on a Saturday or a Sunday?  (Applause.)  How is that advancing our democracy?

So this law will make a difference.  I’m proud of my home state for helping to lead the way.

And we know this works.  In 2012 and 2014, the states with the highest voter turnout all had same-day registration.  So today, I ask every state in America to join us — reduce these barriers to voting.  Make it easier for your constituents to get out and vote.

And I’d encourage this assembly to take the next step.  Senator Manar and Representative Gabel have bills that would automatically register every eligible citizen to vote when they apply for a driver’s license.  That will protect the fundamental right of everybody.  Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military — it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted.

And as one of your constituents, I think you should pass that legislation right away.  (Applause.)  I think the Governor should sign it without delay.  (Applause.)  Let’s make the Land of Lincoln a leader in voter participation.  That’s something we should be proud to do.  (Applause.)  Let’s set the pace — encourage other states across the country to follow our lead, making automatic voter registration the new norm across America.

Now, just during the course of this talk, it’s been interesting to watch the dynamics, obviously.  (Laughter.)  In part because so much of our politics now is just designed for short-term, tactical gain.  If you think that having more voters will hurt you on Election Day, then suddenly you’re not interested in participation.  And if you think that the gerrymandering is helping you instead of hurting you, then you’re not for those proposals.

We get trapped in these things.  We know better.  If we were setting up a set of rules ahead of time, and you didn’t know where you stood, which party you were going to be in, if you didn’t have all the data and the poll numbers to tell you what’s going to give you an edge or not, you’d set up a system that was fair.  You’d encourage everybody to be part of it.  That’s what we learned in our civics books.  That’s how it should work.

The fact that we can’t do that, that brings me to my last point, which is, even as we change the way system works, we also have a responsibility to change the way that we, as elected officials and as citizens, work together.  Because this democracy only works when we get both right — when the system is fair, but also when we build a culture that is trying to make it work.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about something a friend of mine, Deval Patrick, once said to his constituents when he was governor of Massachusetts.  He said, “Insist from us and from each other a modicum of civility as the condition for serving you.”  This is what he told voters.  “Insist on us having a modicum of civility.”

I think that’s something that all of us, as Americans, have to insist from each other.  Our children are watching what we do. They don’t just learn it in school, they learn it by watching us — the way we conduct ourselves, the way we treat each other.  If we lie about each other, they learn it’s okay to lie.  If we make up facts and ignore science, then they just think it’s just their opinion that matters.  If they see us insulting each other like school kids, then they think, well, I guess that’s how people are supposed to behave.  The way we respect — or don’t — each other as citizens will determine whether or not the hard, frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government continues.

I’ve got daughters that are getting older now, and one of the most important things about being a parent I think is them just seeing what you do not when you’re out in public, not when you’re dealing with somebody important, but just how do you do — how do you treat people generally.  And it makes me much more mindful.  I want to live up to their expectations.

And in that same way, I want this democracy to live up to the people’s expectations.  We can’t move forward if all we do is tear each other down.  And the political incentives, as they are today, too often rewards that kind of behavior.  That’s what gets attention.  So it will require some courage just to act the way our parents taught us to act.  It shouldn’t, but in this political environment apparently it does.  We’ve got to insist to do better from each other, for each other.

Rather than reward those who’d disenfranchise any segment of America, we’ve got to insist that everybody arm themselves with information, and facts, and that they vote.  If 99 percent of us voted, it wouldn’t matter how much the 1 percent spends on our elections.  (Applause.)

Rather than reward the most extreme voices, or the most divisive language, or who is best at launching schoolyard taunts, we should insist on a higher form of discourse in our common life, one based on empathy and respect, — which does not mean you abandon principle.  It doesn’t mean you’re not tough.

Rather than paint those who disagree with us as motivated by malice, to suggest that any of us lack patriotism — we can insist, as Lincoln did, that we are not enemies, but friends; that our fellow Americans are not only entitled to a different point of view, but that they love this country as much as we do.

Rather than reward a 24/7 media that so often thrives on sensationalism and conflict, we have to stand up and insist, no, reason matters, facts matter; issues are complicated.  When folks just make stuff up, they can’t go unchallenged.  And that’s true for Democrats if you hear a Democratic make something up, and that’s true for a Republican if you see a Republican cross that line.

Rather than accept the notion that compromise is a sellout to one side, we’ve got to insist on the opposite — that it can be a genuine victory that means progress for all sides.  And rather than preventing our kids from dating people in other parties — well, I may have issues about dating, generally –(laughter) — but we can trust that we’ve raised our kids to do the right thing, and to look at the qualities of people’s character, not some label attached to them.

And maybe, most of all, whenever someone begins to grow cynical about our politics, or believes that their actions can’t make a difference or it’s not worth participating in, we’ve got to insist, even against all evidence to the contrary, that in fact they can make a difference.  And in this job of being a citizen of the United States of America, that’s a big deal.  It’s something we should revere and take seriously.

Abraham Lincoln wasn’t always the giant that we think of today.  He lacked formal schooling.  His businesses and his law practices often struggled.  After just one term in Congress, his opposition to the Mexican-American War damaged his reputation so badly he did not run for reelection.  He was denounced as a traitor, a demagogue, an enemy sympathizer.  He returned to his law practice and admitted he was losing interest in politics entirely.

And then something happened that shook his conscience.  Congress effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise, that flawed and fragile law that had prohibited slavery in the North and legalized it in the South, but left the question ultimately unsettled.  And stunned by this news, Lincoln said he’d been roused “as he had never been before” over what it meant for America’s future.

And so, here in Springfield, at the state fair, he got back in the game and he delivered the first of his great anti-slavery speeches to a crowd of thousands.  And over the next six years, even as he lost two more political races, his arguments with Douglas and others shaped the national debate.  That’s when he uttered those brilliant words on the steps of the Old State Capitol that “A house divided against itself cannot stand;” that “this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”

He became the first Republican President, and I believe our greatest President.  And through his will and his words and, most of all, his character, he held a nation together and he helped free a people.

And those victories did not solve all of our problems.  He would be attacked at times for the compromises he was prepared to make by abolitionists and folks from his own side.  It would be 100 years more until the law guaranteed African Americans the equal rights that they had been promised.  Even 50 years after that, our march is not yet finished.  But because Lincoln made that decision not to give up, and not to let other voices speak for him, and because he held in his mind the strength of principle but the vision, the ability to understand those who disagreed with him, and showed them respect even as he fought them — because of what he set in motion, generations of free men and women of all races and walks of life have had the chance to choose this country’s course.  What a great gift.  What a great legacy he has bestowed up.

And that’s the thing about America.  We are a constant work of progress.  And our success has never been certain, none of our journey has been preordained.  And there’s always been a gap between our highest ideals and the reality that we witness every single day.  But what makes us exceptional — what makes us Americans — is that we have fought wars, and passed laws, and reformed systems, and organized unions, and staged protests, and launched mighty movements to close that gap, and to bring the promise and the practice of America into closer alignment.  We’ve made the effort to form that “more perfect union.”

Nine years to the day that I first announced for this office, I still believe in that politics of hope.  And for all the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and for all the imperfections of our democracy, the capacity to reach across our differences and choose that kind of politics — not a cynical politics, not a politics of fear, but that kind of politics — sustained over the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime, that’s something that remains entirely up to us.

Thank you, Illinois.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)  It’s good to see all you.  I miss you guys.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END           2:04 P.M. CST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 12, 2016: Nikki Haley’s Republican response to State of the Union address Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Republican response to State of the Union address Transcript

Source: CNN, 1-12-16

Transcript of Nikki Haley’s Republican response to the 2016 State of the Union address. As prepared for delivery.

“Good evening.

“I’m Nikki Haley, Governor of the great state of South Carolina.

“I’m speaking tonight from Columbia, our state’s capital city. Much like America as a whole, ours is a state with a rich and complicated history, one that proves the idea that each day can be better than the last.

“In just a minute, I’m going to talk about a vision of a brighter American future. But first I want to say a few words about President Obama, who just gave his final State of the Union address.

“Barack Obama’s election as president seven years ago broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans. As he did when he first ran for office, tonight President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He is at his best when he does that.

“Unfortunately, the President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.

“As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We’re feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities.

“Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.

“Soon, the Obama presidency will end, and America will have the chance to turn in a new direction. That direction is what I want to talk about tonight.

“At the outset, I’ll say this: you’ve paid attention to what has been happening in Washington, and you’re not naive.

“Neither am I. I see what you see. And many of your frustrations are my frustrations.

“A frustration with a government that has grown day after day, year after year, yet doesn’t serve us any better. A frustration with the same, endless conversations we hear over and over again. A frustration with promises made and never kept.

“We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around.

“We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken.

“And then we need to fix it.

“The foundation that has made America that last, best hope on earth hasn’t gone anywhere. It still exists. It is up to us to return to it.

“For me, that starts right where it always has: I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every day how blessed we were to live in this country.

“Growing up in the rural south, my family didn’t look like our neighbors, and we didn’t have much. There were times that were tough, but we had each other, and we had the opportunity to do anything, to be anything, as long as we were willing to work for it.

“My story is really not much different from millions of other Americans. Immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America. They wanted better for their children than for themselves. That remains the dream of all of us, and in this country we have seen time and again that that dream is achievable.

“Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.

“No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

“At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.

“We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.

“I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.

“This past summer, South Carolina was dealt a tragic blow. On an otherwise ordinary Wednesdayevening in June, at the historic Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, twelve faithful men and women, young and old, went to Bible study.

“That night, someone new joined them. He didn’t look like them, didn’t act like them, didn’t sound like them. They didn’t throw him out. They didn’t call the police. Instead, they pulled up a chair and prayed with him. For an hour.

“We lost nine incredible souls that night.

“What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.

“Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.

“We didn’t turn against each other’s race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.

“We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him.

“There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.

“Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.

“Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t have strong disagreements. We will. And as we usher in this new era, Republicans will stand up for our beliefs.

“If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.

“We would encourage American innovation and success instead of demonizing them, so our economy would truly soar and good jobs would be available across our country.

“We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.

“We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.

“We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.

“We would recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety. And yes, that includes the Second and Tenth Amendments.

“We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.

“And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military, so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.

“We have big decisions to make. Our country is being tested.

“But we’ve been tested in the past, and our people have always risen to the challenge. We have all the guidance we need to be safe and successful.

“Our forefathers paved the way for us.

“Let’s take their values, and their strengths, and rededicate ourselves to doing whatever it takes to keep America the greatest country in the history of man. And woman.

“Thank you, good night, and God bless.”

Full Text Political Transcripts January 12, 2016: President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery State of the Union Address

Source: WH, 1-12-16

The White House is once again making the full text of the State of the Union widely available online. The text, as prepared for delivery, is also available on Medium and Facebook notes, continuing efforts to meet people where they are and make the speech as accessible as possible. Through these digital platforms, people can follow along with the speech as they watch in real time, view charts and infographics on key areas, share their favorite lines, and provide feedback.

WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it shorter.  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.

I also understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low.  Still, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse. We just might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.  All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.

But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, ten years, and beyond.

I want to focus on our future.

We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before – wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people.  And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery and innovation, our diversity and commitment to the rule of law – these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible.  It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.

But such progress is not inevitable.  It is the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer – regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history.  More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.

Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  What is true – and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious – is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven’t let up.  Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments we’ve had these past few years, there are some areas where Americans broadly agree.

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.

And we have to make college affordable for every American.  Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to ten percent of a borrower’s income.  Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.

Of course, a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy.  We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber.  For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when we lose a job, or go back to school, or start that new business, we’ll still have coverage.  Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far.  Health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  But there should be other ways both parties can improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job – we shouldn’t just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everyone.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.

But there are other areas where it’s been more difficult to find agreement over the last seven years – namely what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  And here, the American people have a choice to make.

I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut.  But after years of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the expense of everyone else; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  In this new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  And this year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers ends up being good for their shareholders, their customers, and their communities, so that we can spread those best practices across America.

In fact, many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country:  how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget.  We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.

That spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  We’re Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.  And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.

We’ve protected an open internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.

But we can do so much more.  Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.

Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.

Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record – until 2015 turned out even hotter – why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?

Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results.  In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal – in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy – something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.  Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.  That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.

None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve – that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.

Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period.  It’s not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.

As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.  The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds blow from a Chinese economy in transition.  Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

It’s up to us to help remake that system.  And that means we have to set priorities.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.

But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.

That’s exactly what we are doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons.  We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.

Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now.

Fortunately, there’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.

That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.

That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.

That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products Made in America, and supports more good jobs.  With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.  You want to show our strength in this century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.

Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere?  Recognize that the Cold War is over.  Lift the embargo.

American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world – except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity.  When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change – that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our children.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend upon.  When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick, that prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria – something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.

That’s strength.  That’s leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo:  it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.

That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion.  This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.  His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  And it betrays who we are as a country.

“We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.  That brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing I want to say tonight.

The future we want – opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.  Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task – or any President’s – alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.  I know; you’ve told me.  And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.

We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution.  We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do.

But I can’t do these things on my own.  Changes in our political process – in not just who gets elected but how they get elected – that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It will depend on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

What I’m asking for is hard.  It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.  To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

It won’t be easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

They’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing.

I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you.  I know you’re there.  You’re the reason why I have such incredible confidence in our future.  Because I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over – and the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him ‘til he can run a marathon, and the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count, because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

That’s the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  Because of you.  I believe in you.  That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

###

Full Text Political Transcripts January 8, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Lifting Sanctions on Iran

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Iran

Source: WH, 1-17-16

The Cabinet Room

10:48 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a good day, because, once again, we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy.

As I said in my State of the Union address, ensuring the security of the United States and the safety of our people demands a smart, patient and disciplined approach to the world.  That includes our diplomacy with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  For decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other.  Ultimately, that did not advance America’s interests.  Over the years, Iran moved closer and closer to having the ability to build a nuclear weapon.  But from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the United States has never been afraid to pursue diplomacy with our adversaries.  And as President, I decided that a strong, confident America could advance our national security by engaging directly with the Iranian government.

We’ve seen the results.  Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.  The region, the United States, and the world will be more secure.  As I’ve said many times, the nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all of our differences with Iran.  But still, engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis, for the first time in decades, has created a unique opportunity — a window — to try to resolve important issues.  And today, I can report progress on a number of fronts.

First, yesterday marked a milestone in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Iran has now fulfilled key commitments under the nuclear deal.  And I want to take a moment to explain why this is so important.

Over more than a decade, Iran had moved ahead with its nuclear program, and, before the deal, it had installed nearly 20,000 centrifuges that can enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb.  Today, Iran has removed two-thirds of those machines.  Before the deal, Iran was steadily increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium — enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs.  Today, more than 98 percent of that stockpile has been shipped out of Iran — meaning Iran now doesn’t have enough material for even one bomb. Before, Iran was nearing completion of a new reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb.  Today, the core of that reactor has been pulled out and filled with concrete so it cannot be used again.

Before the deal, the world had relatively little visibility into Iran’s nuclear program.  Today, international inspectors are on the ground, and Iran is being subjected to the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.  Inspectors will monitor Iran’s key nuclear facilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  For decades to come, inspectors will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain.  In other words, if Iran tries to cheat — if they try to build a bomb covertly — we will catch them.

So the bottom line is this.  Whereas Iran was steadily expanding its nuclear program, we have now cut off every single path that Iran could have used to build a bomb.  Whereas it would have taken Iran two to three months to break out with enough material to rush to a bomb, we’ve now extended that breakout time to a year — and with the world’s unprecedented inspections and access to Iran’s program, we’ll know if Iran ever tries to break out.

Now that Iran’s actions have been verified, it can begin to receive relief from certain nuclear sanctions and gain access to its own money that had been frozen.  And perhaps most important of all, we’ve achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East.

I want to also point out that by working with Iran on this nuclear deal, we were better able to address other issues.  When our sailors in the Persian Gulf accidentally strayed into Iranian waters that could have sparked a major international incident.  Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis.  Instead, we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours.

This brings me to a second major development — several Americans unjustly detained by Iran are finally coming home.  In some cases, these Americans faced years of continued detention.  And I’ve met with some of their families.  I’ve seen their anguish, how they ache for their sons and husbands.  I gave these families my word — I made a vow — that we would do everything in our power to win the release of their loved ones.  And we have been tireless.  On the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations, our diplomats at the highest level, including Secretary Kerry, used every meeting to push Iran to release our Americans.  I did so myself, in my conversation with President Rouhani.  After the nuclear deal was completed, the discussions between our governments accelerated.  Yesterday, these families finally got the news that they have been waiting for.

Jason Rezaian is coming home.  A courageous journalist for The Washington Post, who wrote about the daily lives and hopes of the Iranian people, he’s been held for a year and a half.  He embodies the brave spirit that gives life to the freedom of the press.  Jason has already been reunited with his wife and mom.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is coming home.  Held for three and half years, his unyielding faith has inspired people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion.  Now, Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.

Amir Hekmati is coming home.  A former sergeant in the Marine Corps, he’s been held for four and a half years.  Today, his parents and sisters are giving thanks in Michigan.

Two other Americans unjustly detained by Iran have also been released — Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and Matthew Trevithick, an Iranian — who was in Iran as a student.  Their cases were largely unknown to the world.  But when Americans are freed and reunited with their families, that’s something that we can all celebrate.

So I want to thank my national security team — especially Secretary Kerry; Susan Rice, my National Security Advisor; Brett McGurk; Avril Haines; Ben Rhodes — our whole team worked tirelessly to bring our Americans home, to get this work done.  And I want to thank the Swiss government, which represents our interests in Iran, for their critical assistance.

And meanwhile, Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson — missing from Iran for more than eight years.  Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob.  Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family, and we will not rest until their family is whole again.

In a reciprocal humanitarian gesture, six Iranian–Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the United States are being granted clemency.  These individuals were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.  They’re civilians, and their release is a one-time gesture to Iran given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play.  And it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States.

So, nuclear deal implemented.  American families reunited.  The third piece of this work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades.  Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we’ve worked through a international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries.  The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government.  Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought.

For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran.  So there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out.  With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.

Of course, even as we implement the nuclear deal and welcome our Americans home, we recognize that there remain profound differences between the United States and Iran.  We remain steadfast in opposing Iran’s destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners, and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen.  We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program.  And we will continue to enforce these sanctions, vigorously.  Iran’s recent missile test, for example, was a violation of its international obligations.  And as a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program.  And we are going to remain vigilant about it.  We’re not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners.

But I do want to once again speak directly to the Iranian people.  Yours is a great civilization, with a vibrant culture that has so much to contribute to the world — in commerce, and in science and the arts.  For decades, your government’s threats and actions to destabilize your region have isolated Iran from much of the world.  And now our governments are talking with one another.  Following the nuclear deal, you — especially young Iranians — have the opportunity to begin building new ties with the world.  We have a rare chance to pursue a new path — a different, better future that delivers progress for both our peoples and the wider world.  That’s the opportunity before the Iranian people.  We need to take advantage of that.

And to my fellow Americans, today, we’re united in welcoming home sons and husbands and brothers who, in lonely prison cells, have endured an absolute nightmare.  But they never gave in and they never gave up.  At long last, they can stand tall and breathe deep the fresh air of freedom.

As a nation, we face real challenges, around the world and here at home.  Many of them will not be resolved quickly or easily.  But today’s progress — Americans coming home, an Iran that has rolled back its nuclear program and accepted unprecedented monitoring of that program — these things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom; with courage and resolve and patience.  America can do — and has done — big things when we work together.  We can leave this world and make it safer and more secure for our children and our grandchildren for generations to come.

I want to thank once again Secretary Kerry; our entire national security team, led by Susan Rice.  I’m grateful for all the assistance that we received from our allies and partners.  And I am hopeful that this signals the opportunity at least for Iran to work more cooperatively with nations around the world to advance their interests and the interests of people who are looking for peace and security for their families.

Thank you so much.  God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

                          END             11:03 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 8, 2016: President Barack Obama vetoes GOP Congress’ ObamaCare repeal the Reconciliation Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Veto Message from the President — H.R. 3762

Source: WH, 1-8-16

TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

I am returning herewith without my approval H.R. 3762, which provides for reconciliation pursuant to section 2002 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2016, herein referred to as the Reconciliation Act.  This legislation would not only repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, but would reverse the significant progress we have made in improving health care in America.  The Affordable Care Act includes a set of fairer rules and stronger consumer protections that have made health care coverage more affordable, more attainable, and more patient centered.  And it is working.  About 17.6 million Americans have gained health care coverage as the law’s coverage provisions have taken effect.  The Nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever, and demand for Marketplace coverage during December 2015 was at an all-time high.  Health care costs are lower than expected when the law was passed, and health care quality is higher — with improvements in patient safety saving an estimated 87,000 lives.  Health care has changed for the better, setting this country on a smarter, stronger course.

The Reconciliation Act would reverse that course.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million after 2017.  The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that this reduction in health care coverage could mean, each year, more than 900,000 fewer people getting all their needed care, more than 1.2 million additional people having trouble paying other bills due to higher medical costs, and potentially more than 10,000 additional deaths.  This legislation would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage they deserve.  Reliable health care coverage  would no longer be a right for everyone:  it would return to being a privilege for a few.

The legislation’s implications extend far beyond those who would become uninsured.  For example, about 150 million Americans with employer-based insurance would be at risk of higher premiums and lower wages.  And it would cause the cost of health coverage for people buying it on their own to skyrocket.

The Reconciliation Act would also effectively defund Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood uses both Federal and non-federal funds to provide a range of important preventive care and health services, including health screenings, vaccinations, and check-ups to millions of men and women who visit their health centers annually.  Longstanding Federal policy already prohibits the use of Federal funds for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.  By eliminating Federal Medicaid funding for a major provider of health care, H.R. 3762 would limit access to health care for men, women, and families across the Nation, and would disproportionately impact low-income individuals.

Republicans in the Congress have attempted to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act over 50 times.  Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, Members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle-class families, and create new jobs.  Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto.

Full Text Political Transcripts January 7, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at CNN “Guns In America” Town Hall

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at CNN “Guns In America” Town Hall

Source: WH, 1-7-16

George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia

8:00 P.M. EST

MR. COOPER: Good evening from George Mason University here in Fairfax, Virginia.  We are here tonight to talk about one of the most divisive issues in America today — guns.  Their protection is enshrined in the Constitution, in the Second Amendment, and gun ownership is an integral part of American history and culture.

There are some 30,000 gun deaths in America each year.  Two-thirds of them are suicides; one-third of them are homicides.  So the question we want to confront tonight is how you find a balance between protecting the rights of American citizens who want to own guns, but preventing guns from getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

We brought together people here tonight who represent really all sides of the issue — gun owners, gun sellers, people who have survived shootings or lost loved ones.  Some here believe that having more guns makes us all safer, and believe the right to bear arms defines us, preserves us from tyranny and cannot be compromised in any way.  Others here tonight believe just as passionately that more needs to be done to limit the sale of firearms.  And we respect all of their views, and we want to hear from as many as we can tonight in the hour ahead.

One voice you will not hear from tonight is the National Rifle Association.  They’re the nation’s largest, most influential and powerful gun rights group.  We invited them to be here — I think their office is just a couple miles away.  They declined to take part.  Some of their members are here tonight, though.  We’re very thankful for that.  And so are representatives from the National Firearms Retailers Association.

This town hall is not something the White House dreamed up or that the White House organized.  CNN approached the White House shortly after the San Bernardino terror attack with this idea.  And we’re pleased that they agreed to participate and pleased to welcome tonight the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.

MR. COOPER:  Hello, Mr. President.  Welcome.

THE PRESIDENT:  Great to see you.

MR. COOPER:  Good to see you.  Let me start.  Have you ever owned a gun?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have never owned a gun.  Now, up at Camp David, we’ve got some skeet shooting, so on a fairly regular basis, we get a 12-gauge and — I’m not making any claims about my marksmanship.

MR. COOPER:  Before you were President, did you ever feel a desire to get a gun, feel the need to get a gun?

THE PRESIDENT:  I grew up mostly in Hawaii, and other than hunting for wild pig — which they do once in a while — there’s not the popularity of hunting and sportsmanship with guns as much as there are in other parts of the country.

MR. COOPER:  I mean, I ask the question because there’s a lot of people out there who don’t trust you, obviously, on the issue of guns.  You keep saying you don’t want to take away everybody’s guns.  But there’s a lot of people out there tonight watching who don’t believe you.  There are a lot of people in this room who, frankly, don’t believe you.  And it’s not just that you don’t really have personal experience having owned a gun, but that things you’ve said:  Support for Australia’s tough anti-gun policies.  They banned semi-automatic assault rifles.  They banned even shotguns in Australia.  You’ve praised their policies over and over.

Back in 2008, you said — you talked about “bitter Americans clinging to their guns.”  Even now, these executive actions have caused a lot of concern among a lot of people.  What can you say to somebody tonight to convince them that you don’t want to take away everybody’s guns and you’re not coming for their guns?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, Anderson, I think it’s useful to keep in mind I’ve been now President for over seven years and gun sales don’t seem to have suffered during that time.

MR. COOPER:  If anything, actually —

THE PRESIDENT:  They’ve gone up.  I’ve been very good for gun manufacturers.  More importantly — I’ll tell you a story that I think indicates how I see the issue.

Back in 2007-2008, when I was campaigning, I’d leave Chicago, a city which is wonderful, I couldn’t be prouder of my city, but where every week there’s a story about a young person getting shot.  Some are gang members and it’s turf battles.  Sometimes it’s innocent victims.

MR. COOPER:  Fifty-five people have been shot in Chicago in the last seven days.

THE PRESIDENT:  Sometimes it’s happened just a few blocks from my house, and I live in a reasonably good neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

So that’s one image — talking to families who’ve gone through the pain of losing somebody because of violence in Chicago — gun violence.

Michelle and I are then campaigning out in Iowa, and we’re going to farms and we’re going to counties.  And at one point, Michelle turned to me and she said, you know, if I was living in a farmhouse, where the sheriff’s department is pretty far away, and somebody can just turn off the highway and come up to the farm, I’d want to have a shotgun or a rifle to make sure that I was protected and my family was protected.  And she was absolutely right.

And so part of the reason I think that this ends up being such a difficult issue is because people occupy different realities.  There are a whole bunch of law-abiding citizens who have grown up hunting with their dad, or going to the shooting range, and are responsible gun owners.  And then there’s the reality that there are neighborhoods around the country where it is easier for a 12 or 13-year-old to purchase a gun — and cheaper — than it is for them to get a book.

MR. COOPER:  But what you’re proposing, what you proposed this week, the executive actions, the other things, are they really going to be effective?  And I ask this because the vast majority of felons out there — I mean, we can all agree criminals should not get guns; we want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  The vast majority of criminals get their guns from — either illegally or from family or friends.  So background checks is not something that’s going to affect them, is it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, but that’s not exactly accurate.  Look, first of all, it’s important for everybody to understand what I’ve proposed and what I haven’t proposed.  What I’ve said consistently throughout my presidency is I respect the Second Amendment; I respect the right to bear arms; I respect people who want a gun for self-protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship.  But all of us can agree that it makes sense to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who would try to do others harm, or to do themselves harm.

Because every year we’re losing 30,000 people to gun violence.  Two-thirds of those are actually suicides.  Hundreds of kids under the age of 18 are being shot or shooting themselves, often by accident — many of them under the age of five.  And so if we can combine gun safety with sensible background checks and some other steps, we’re not going to eliminate gun violence, but we will lessen it.  And if we take that number from 30,000 down to, let’s say, 28,000, that’s 2,000 families who don’t have to go through what the families at Newtown or San Bernardino or Charleston went through.

And so what we’ve proposed is that if you have a background check system that has a bunch of big loopholes, which is why a lot of criminals and people who shouldn’t have guns are able to get guns —

Q    But they’re not buying them at gun shows — only 1 percent of criminals are buying them at gun shows.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, but this is what happens.  Let’s go back to the city of Chicago that has strong gun control laws.  And oftentimes the NRA will point to that as an example and say, see, these things don’t work.  Well, the problem is, is that about 30, 40 percent of those guns are coming from Indiana, across the border, where there are much laxer laws.  And so folks will go to a gun show and purchase a whole bunch of firearms, put them in a van, drive up into Mike Pfleger’s neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where his parish is, open up the trunk, and those things are for sale.

Now, technically, you could say those folks bought them illegally, but it was facilitated by the fact that what used to be a small exception that said collectors and hobbyists don’t need to go through a background check has become this massive industry where people who are doing business are, in fact, saying that they’re not in the business of selling guns, but are.

And all we’re saying here is, is that we want to put everybody on notice that the definition of doing business — which means you have to register, and it means you have to run a background check — is if you are making a profit and repeatedly selling guns, then you should have to follow the same rules as every other gun dealer.  And what that means —

MR. COOPER:  There are a lot of people who believe that’s not specific enough because there’s a lot of fathers and sons who sell guns every now and then and at gun shows.  Are they going to have to now start doing background checks?  Are they going to start to have to register?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, what the Justice Department has done is provided a whole range of very specific examples.  And what we ultimately need I believe is for Congress to set up a system that is efficient, that doesn’t inconvenience the lawful gun seller or purchaser, but that makes sure that we’re doing the best background check possible.

And the fact, Anderson, that the system may not catch every single person, or there may be a circumstance where somebody doesn’t think that they have to register and do, and that may cause some red tape and bureaucracy for them, which — or inconvenience — has to be weighed against the fact that we may be able to save a whole bunch of families from the grief that some of the people in this audience have had to go through.

And keep in mind, for the gun owners who are in attendance here, my suspicion is, is that you all had to go through a background check and it didn’t prevent you from getting a weapon. And the notion that you should have to do that but there are a whole bunch of folks who are less responsible than you who don’t have to do it doesn’t make much sense.

So why we should resist this — keep in mind that, historically, the NRA was in favor of background checks.  Historically, many in the Republican Party were in favor of background checks.  And what’s changed is not that my proposals are particularly radical.  What’s changed is we’ve suddenly created an atmosphere in which I put out a proposal like background checks or, after Sandy Hook, was calling on Congress, along with people like Gabby Giffords, who herself was a victim of gun violence — we put out a proposal that is common sense, modest, does not claim to solve every problem, is respectful of the Second Amendment, and the way it is described is that we’re trying to take away everybody’s guns.

And part of the reason I welcomed this opportunity by CNN to have a good discussion and debate about it is because our position is consistently mischaracterized.  And, by the way, there’s a reason why the NRA is not here.  They’re just down the street, and since this is the main reason they exist, you’d think that they’d be prepared to have a debate with the President.

MR. COOPER:  They haven’t been to the White House for years.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, no, no — we’ve invited them.  We’ve invited them.

MR. COOPER:  So, right now, tonight, you’re saying you would be —

THE PRESIDENT:  We have invited them repeatedly.  But if you listen to the rhetoric, it is so over the top and so over-heated, and, most importantly, is not acknowledging the fact that there’s no other consumer item that we purchase —

Q    So is that an open invitation that —

THE PRESIDENT:  Hold on a second.  Let me finish this point, Cooper.  There’s nothing else in our lives that we purchase where we don’t try to make it a little safer if we can.  Traffic fatalities have gone down drastically during my lifetime.  And part of it is technology, and part of it is the National Highway Safety Administration does research and they figure out, you know what, seatbelts really work.  And then we passed some laws to make sure seatbelts are fastened.  Airbags make a lot of sense; let’s try those out.  Toys — we say, you know what, we find out that kids are swallowing toys all the time, let’s make sure that the toys aren’t so small that they swallow them if they’re for toddlers or infants.  Medicine — kids can’t open aspirin caps.

Now, the notion that we would not apply the same basic principles to gun ownership as we do to everything else that we own just to try to make them safer, or the notion that anything we do to try to make them safer is somehow a plot to take away guns, that contradicts what we do to try to create a better life for Americans in every other area of our lives.

MR. COOPER:  And just so I’m clear, tonight you’re saying you would welcome to meet with the NRA?

THE PRESIDENT:  Anderson, I’ve said this repeatedly — I’m happy to meet with them.  I’m happy to talk to them.  But the conversation has to be based on facts and truth and what we’re actually proposing, not some imaginary fiction in which Obama is trying to take away your guns.

The reason, by the way, that gun sales spike not just before I propose something — every time there is a mass shooting, gun sales spike.  And part of the reason is, is that the NRA has convinced many of its members that somebody is going come grab your guns — which is, by the way, really profitable for the gun manufacturers.  It’s a great advertising mechanism, but it’s not necessary.  There’s enough of a market out there for people who want protection, who are sportsmen, who wants to go hunting with their kids.  And we can make it safer.

MR. COOPER:  I want to open this up to people in our audience.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.

MR. COOPER:  People have traveled far.  I want you to meet Taya Kyle.  She’s the widow of Chris Kyle, former Navy SEAL, author of “American Sniper.”  Taya wrote a book, “American Life: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith, and Renewal.”

Taya, we’re happy you’re here.  What do you want to ask the President?

Q    I appreciate you taking the time to come here.  And I think that your message of hope is something I agree with, and I think it’s great.  And I think that by creating new laws you do give people hope.  The thing is that the laws that we create don’t stop these horrific things from happening, right?  And that’s a very tough pill to swallow.

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

Q    We want to think that we can make a law and people will follow it.  But by the very nature of their crime, they’re not following it.  By the very nature of looking at the people who hurt our loved ones here, I don’t know that any of them would have been stopped by the background check.  And yet — I crave that desire for hope, too.  And so I think, part of it, we have to recognize that we cannot outlaw murder, because the people who are murdering are — they’re breaking the law, but they also don’t have a moral code that we have.  And so they could do the same amount of damage with a pipe bomb.  The problem is that they want to murder.

And I’m wondering why it wouldn’t be a better use of our time to give people hope in a different way, to say, you know what, we — well, first of all, actually, let me back up to that. Because with the laws, I know that at least the last I heard, the federal prosecution of gun crimes was like 40 percent.  And what I mean by that is that there are people lying on these forms already, and we’re not prosecuting them.  So there’s an issue there, right?  But instead, if we can give people hope and say that also during this time, while you’ve been President, we are at the lowest murder rate in our country — all-time low of murders.  We’re at an all-time high of gun ownership, right?  I’m not necessarily saying that the two are correlated, but what I’m saying is that we’re at an all-time low for a murder rate.  That’s a big deal.

And yet, I think most of us in this country feel like it could happen at any moment.  It could happen to any of us at any time, at a moment’s notice.  When you talk about the NRA, and after a mass shooting that gun sales go up, I would argue that it’s not necessarily that I think somebody is going to come take my gun from me, but I want the hope, and the hope that I have the right to protect myself, that I don’t end up to be one of these families; that I have the freedom to carry whatever weapon I feel I need, just like your wife said on that farm.  The sheriff is not going to get to my house, either.  And I understand that background checks aren’t necessarily going to stop me from getting a gun, but I also know that they wouldn’t have stopped any of the people here in this room from killing.  And so it seems like almost a false sense of hope.

So why not celebrate where we are?  I guess that’s my real question — is celebrate that we’re good people, and 99.9 percent of us are never going to kill anyone.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  First of all, thanks to your husband for his service, and thank you for your service, because of extraordinary heroism that he and your family have shown in protecting all of us.  And I’m very grateful for that.

Number two, what you said about murder rates and violent crime generally is something that we don’t celebrate enough.  The fact of the matter is, is that violent crime has been steadily declining across America for a pretty long time.  And you wouldn’t always know it by watching television, but overall, most cities are much safer than they were 10 years ago or 20 years ago.

Now, I’d challenge the notion that the reason for that is because there’s more gun ownership, because if you look at where are the areas with the highest gun ownership, those are the places, in some cases, where the crime rate hasn’t dropped down that much.  And the places where there’s pretty stiff restrictions on gun ownership, in some of those places the crime has dropped really quickly.  So I’m not sure that there’s a one-to-one correlation there.

But I think the most important point I want to make is that you will be able to purchase a firearm.  Some criminals will get their hands on firearms even if there’s a background check.  Somebody may lie on a form.  Somebody will intend to commit a crime but they don’t have a record that shows up on the background check system.

But in the same way that we don’t eliminate all traffic accidents, but over the course of 20 years, traffic accidents get lower — there’s still tragedies, there’s still drunk drivers, there’s still people who don’t wear their seatbelts — but over time, that violence was reduced, and so families are spared.  That’s the same thing that we can do with gun ownership.

There is a way for us to set up a system where you, a responsible gun owner, who I’m assuming, given your husband and your family, is a much better marksman than I am, can have a firearm to protect yourself, but where it is much harder for somebody to fill up a car with guns and sell them to 13-year-old kids on the streets.  And that is I think what we’re trying to do.

What we’re also trying to do is make the database more effective — so that’s part of the proposal — which, by the way, will convenience you when you go to the store, because if we can set up a 24/7 background check system, then that means that it’s less likely that things slip through the cracks or it’s more difficult for you to get your background check completed.

And we’re also trying to close a loophole that has been developing over the last decade where now people are using cut-out trusts and shell corporations to purchase the most dangerous weapons — sawed-off shotguns, automatic weapons, silencers — and don’t have to go through background checks at all.  And we don’t know whether — are these sales going to drug traffickers? We don’t know who’s purchasing them right now.  And so what we’re saying is, you know what, that is something that we’ve got to do something about.

The same thing is true with Internet sales, where one study has shown that one out of 30 persons who are purchasing weapons over the Internet turn out to have a felony record.  And that’s not something you want to see.

MR. COOPER:  I think one question a lot of people have about you is do you believe the fundamental notion that a good guy with a gun or a good woman with a gun is an important bulwark against a bad person with a gun?  And before you answer, I want you to meet Kimberly Corban.  Kimberly was a college student in Colorado in 2006 — Kimberly is right over there.  She was raped by a man who broke into her apartment.  She testified for three hours in the trial against him.  Her attacker was sentenced to 24-years-to-life in prison.  And I know that attack, Kimberly, changed your view of handguns.  What’s your question for the President?

Q    Absolutely.  As a survivor of rape and now a mother to two small children, it seems like being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing, and being able to carry that wherever me and my family are, it seems like my basic responsibility as a parent at this point.  I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids.  So why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you’re putting to make it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that where I need to be is actually just making my kids and I less safe?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Kimberly, first of all, obviously, your story is horrific.  The strength you’ve shown in telling your story and being here tonight is remarkable.  And so I’m really proud of you for that.

I just want to repeat that there’s nothing that we’ve proposed that would make it harder for you to purchase a firearm. And now, you may be referring to issues like concealed carry, but those tend to be state-by-state decisions, and we’re not making any proposals with respect to what states are doing.  They can make their own decisions there.  So there really is no — nothing that we’re proposing that prevents you or makes it harder for you to purchase a firearm if you need one.

There are always questions as to whether or not having a firearm in the home protects you from that kind of violence.  And I’m not sure we can resolve that.  People argue it both sides.  What is true is, is that you have to be pretty well trained in order to fire a weapon against somebody who is assaulting you and catches you by surprise.  And what is also true is there’s always the possibility that that firearm in a home leads to a tragic accident.  We can debate that, round or flat.

But for now, what I just want to focus on is that you certainly would like to make it a little harder for that assailant to have also had a gun.  You certainly would want to make sure that if he gets released, that he now can’t do what he did to you to somebody else.  And it’s going to be easier for us to prevent him from getting a gun if there’s a strong background system in place — background check system in place.

And so if you look at the statistics, there’s no doubt that there are times where somebody who has a weapon has been able to protect themselves and scare off an intruder or an assailant.  But what is more often the case is that they may not have been able to protect themselves but they end up the victim of the weapon that they purchased themselves.  And that’s something that can be debated.  In the meantime, all I’m focused on is making sure that a terrible crime like yours that was committed is not made easier because somebody can go on the Internet and just buy whatever weapon they want without us finding out whether they’re a criminal or not.

MR. COOPER:  Kimberly, thank you for being here.  I appreciate it.

You talked about Chicago, and there’s a lot of folks from Chicago here tonight.  I want you to meet — or I want everybody to meet, because I know you’ve met her before, Cleo Pendleton.  She’s sitting over there.  And I should point out — I think I said it earlier — 55 shootings in Chicago in just the past seven days.  Cleo Pendleton, her daughter, Hadiya, performed at your second inauguration.  She was shot to death a little more than a week later.  She was 15 years old.  She was an honor student, a majorette.  And you being here tonight honors her, so thank you very much for being here.  What’s your question to the President?

Q    Well, I want to say thank you, first of all, for making it more difficult for guns to get in the hands of those that shouldn’t have them.  Thank you for the action you took on Tuesday.  But I want to ask a question — how can we stop the trafficking of guns from states with looser gun laws into states with tougher gun laws?  Because I believe that’s the case often in Chicago, and possibly the source of the gun that shot and murdered my daughter.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, it’s great to see you again.  And part of the reason that we do this is because when you meet parents of wonderful young people and they tell their stories, at least for me, I think of Malia and I think of Sasha and I think of my nieces and I think of my nephews.  And the pain that any of us go through with a loss like that is extraordinary. And I couldn’t be prouder of the families who are here representing both sides but who’ve been affected in those ways.

If we are able to set up a strong background check system — and my proposal, by the way, includes hiring — having the FBI hire a couple hundred more people to help process background checks, because they’re big numbers, you’re talking about 20 million checks that are getting done every year — hiring 200,000 — or 200 more ATF agents to be able to go after unscrupulous gun dealers, then that will apply across the country.

And so, some states may have laws that allow for conceal-and -carry; some states may not.  There’s still going to be differences.  But what will at least be consistent across the country is that it’s a little bit harder to get a gun.

Now, we can’t guarantee that criminals are not going to have ways of getting guns.  But, for example, it may be a little more difficult and a little more expensive, and the laws of supply and demand mean that if something is harder to get and it’s a little more expensive to get, then fewer people get them.  And that, in and of itself, could make a difference.

So if somebody is a straw purchaser — and what that means is they don’t intend the guns for themselves, they intend to resell them to somebody else — they go to a gun show in Indiana, where right now they don’t have to do a background check, load up a van, and open up that van and sell them to kids in gangs in Chicago — if now that person has to go through a background check, they’ve got to register, ATF has the capacity then to find out if and when a gun is used in a crime in Chicago where that gun had come from.  And now you know here’s somebody who seems to be willing to sell a gun to a 15-year-old who had a known record.

MR. COOPER:  But you’re only going to be asking people to get a license and do background checks if they give out business cards, if they’re selling weapons that are in the original packaging.  Somebody just walking around a gun show selling a weapon is not necessarily going to have to register.

THE PRESIDENT:  No — look, there’s going to be a case-by-case evaluation:  Are they on an ongoing basis making a profit and are they repeatedly selling firearms.

MR. COOPER:  I want you to meet Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Arizona.  He’s a Republican running for Congress.  After the recent terror attacks, Sheriff, I know you’ve been telling citizens to arm themselves to protect their families.  What’s your question to the President?

Q    Well, first, deputies’ slow response time has been mentioned a couple times.  I want to be clear that my deputies have a very fast emergency response —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sure that’s true.

Q    Yes.  Mr. President, you’ve said you’ve been thwarted by — frustrated by Congress.  As a sheriff, I oftentimes get frustrated.  But I don’t make the laws and I’ve sworn an oath to enforce the law, to uphold the Constitution, the same oath you’ve taken.  And the talk and why we’re here is all these mass shootings, and yet you’ve said in your executive action it wouldn’t have solved even one of these or the terrorist attack —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t say that.  I didn’t say that it wouldn’t solve one.

Q    Well, looking at the information, what would it have solved?  Now, knowing —

MR. COOPER:  None of the recent mass shootings, I should point out, none of the guns were purchased from an unlicensed dealer.

Q    Correct.  And that’s what I’m speaking to — the executive action that you mentioned earlier.  Aspirin, toys, or cars, they’re not written about in the Constitution.  I want to know — and I think all of us really want to get to the solution, and you said don’t talk past each other — what would you have done to prevent these mass shootings and the terrorist attack?  And how do we get those with mental illness and criminals — that’s the real problem here — how are we going to get them to follow the laws?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, appreciate your service.  Good luck on your race.  You sure you want to go to Congress?

Q    I don’t want to talk about —

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughter.)  I’m sure that’s true.  That will hurt you.  And I’m sure it’s a Republican district.  (Laughter.)

Look, crime is always going to be with us.  So I think it’s really important for us not to suggest that if we can’t solve every crime, we shouldn’t try to solve any crimes.  (Applause.)

And the problem when we talk about that guns don’t kill people; people kill people, or it’s primarily a mental health problem, or it’s a criminal and evil problem and that’s what we have to get at — all of us are interested in fighting crime.  I’m very proud of the fact that violent crime rates have continued to go down during the course of my presidency.  I’ve got an Attorney General, an FBI that works very closely with local law enforcement in busting up crime rings all the time.  That’s a huge priority to us.  And we’re probably providing grants to your department to help go after criminals.

The challenge we have is that in many instances, you don’t know ahead of time who’s going to be the criminal.  It’s not as if criminals walk around with a label saying, “I’m a criminal.”  And, by the way, the young man who killed those kids in Newtown, he didn’t have a criminal record, and so we didn’t know ahead of time, necessarily, that he was going to do something like that. But he was able to have access to an arsenal that allowed him in very short order to kill an entire classroom of small children.  And so the question then becomes, are there ways for us — since we can’t identify that person all the time, are there ways for us to make it less lethal when something like that happens?

And I mentioned this during my speech at the White House a couple of days ago.  Right around the time of Newtown, in China, a guy who was obviously similarly deranged had a knife and started attacking a bunch of schoolchildren.  About the same number were cut or stabbed by this guy.  But most of them survived.  And the reason was because he wasn’t yielding a semi-automatic.

So the main point I think that I want to make here is that everybody here is in favor of going after criminals, locking them up, making sure that we’re creating an environment where kids don’t turn into criminals and providing the support that they need.  Those are all important things.  Nobody is saying we need to be going soft on criminals.

What we do have to make sure of is that we don’t make it so easy for them to have access to deadly weapons.  In neighborhoods like Chicago — I keep on using Chicago — this is all across the country.  You go into any neighborhood, it used to be that parents would see some kids messing around on the corner and they’d say, “Yo” — even if they weren’t the parent of those children — “go back inside, stop doing that.”  And over time, it was a lot harder to discipline somebody else’s kid and have the community maintain order, or talk to police officers if somebody is doing something wrong, because now somebody is worried about getting shot.

And if we can create an environment that’s just a little bit safer in those communities, that will help.  And if it doesn’t infringe on your Second Amendment rights, and it doesn’t infringe on your Second Amendment rights, and you’re still able to get a firearm for your protection, why wouldn’t we want to do that?

MR. COOPER:  We’ve got to take a break.  (Applause.)  We’re going to take a quick break.  Our live town hall conversation, “Guns in America,” with President Barack Obama continues right after this.

* * * *

MR. COOPER:  And welcome back.  We’re live at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, continuing our live town hall conversation with President Barack Obama, “Guns In America,” talking to voices from all sides of the issue, including the President.

You made your announcement just the other day in a very obviously emotional ceremony at the White House.  And I want to play just a moment from it for those who haven’t seen it.

(Video is shown.)

I think a lot of people were surprised by that moment.

THE PRESIDENT:  I was, too, actually.  I visited Newtown two days after what happened, so it was still very raw.  It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Secret Service cry on duty.  And it wasn’t just the parents.  You had siblings — 10-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 3-year-olds, who, in some cases, didn’t even understand that their brother or sister weren’t going to be coming home.  And I’ve said this before — it continues to haunt me.  It was one of the worst days of my presidency.

But, look, I want to emphasize that there are a lot of tragedies that happen out there as a consequence of the victims of crime.  There are police officers who are out there laying down their lives to protect us every single day.  And tears are appropriate for them, as well, and I visit with those families, as well — victims of terrorism, soldiers coming home.

There’s a lot of heartache out there.  And I don’t suggest that this is the only kind of heartache we should be working on. I spent a lot of time and a lot of hours — in fact, a lot more hours than I spend on this — trying to prevent terrorist attacks.  I spend a lot of time and a lot of hours trying to make sure that we’re continuing to reduce our crime rate.

There are a whole bunch of other answers that are just as important when it comes to making sure that the streets of places like Chicago and Baltimore are safer.  Making sure kids get a good early childhood education.  Making sure that we’re teaching conflict resolution that doesn’t involve violence.  Making sure that faith communities are able to reach out to young people and intervene in timely ways.

So this is not a recipe for solving every problem.  Again, I just want to emphasize that the goal here is just to make progress.  And it’s interesting, as I enter into my last year as President, I could not be prouder of the work that we’ve done. But it also makes you really humble, because you realize that change takes a long time and a lot of the work you do is just to incrementally make things better so that, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, the crime rate has gone down.

That’s not just because of my administration.  That’s the groundwork that was laid by a bunch of good work by law enforcement and others for years, across administrations, on a bipartisan basis.

The same is true with traffic safety.  The same is true with advances in medicine.  The same can be true with this if we stop exaggerating or mischaracterizing the positions of either side and we just come up with some sensible areas that people agree with.  Background checks are an example:  The majority of gun owners agree with this.

MR. COOPER:  You talk about faith communities.  Father Michael Pfleger is here.  I know you know him well.  He’s a Roman Catholic priest in Chicago.  For those who don’t know, his church is St. Sabina on the South Side of Chicago.  I was there about a month ago.  It was a great honor to be there.

Father, you’ve given a lot of eulogies for a lot of kids in your community.  Far too many over the 40 years that you have been there.  What your question for the President?

Q    Mr. President, first of all, thank you for your courage and your passion, and keep pushing.  I happen to be from one of those cities where violence is not going down.  Not only, as Anderson mentioned, the 55 shot, there’s been 11 killed in seven days in Chicago.  And one of the main reasons for that is the easy access to guns.  It’s easier to get a gun in my neighborhood than it is a computer.  And the reality is, is because many of those guns have been bought legally.  And I understand why people are pushing against you, because I understand it’s a business and it’s about a business, and so if we cut back the easy access to guns, less money for gun manufacturers, less money for the gun lobby.  I understand the business of it.  But that business is causing blood and the kids that are dying in Chicago.  And for many years, nobody even cared about Chicago because the violence is primarily black and brown.

The reality is that I don’t understand why we can’t title guns just like cars.  If I have a car and I give it to you, Mr. President, and I don’t transfer a title and you’re in an accident, it’s on me.  We don’t take cars away by putting titles on them.  Why can’t we do that with guns and every gun in America?  So if somebody who’s buying 200 guns, selling them on the streets, if they can’t transfer those titles, then they’re going to be held responsible for the guns that they sell.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Father Mike, first of all, for those of you who don’t know him, has been working since before I moved to Chicago, and I was a 23-year-old when I first met him.  And somehow I aged and he didn’t.  (Laughter.)

MR. COOPER:  Your gray hair is not going back, I can tell you from experience.

THE PRESIDENT:  He was always the best-looking priest in Chicago.  (Laughter.)  But Father Pfleger has done heroic work at St. Sabina Parish.

Issues like licensing, registration, that’s an area where there’s just not enough national consensus at this stage to even consider it.  And part of it is, is people’s concern that that becomes a prelude to taking people’s guns away.  I mean, part of the challenge in this is that the gun debate gets wrapped up in broader debates about whether the federal government is oppressive.  And there are conspiracy theories floating around the Internet these days all the time.  We did a military exercise in Texas, and a whole bunch of folks were sure that this was the start of martial law, and were suggesting maybe don’t cooperate with the United States Army in an effort to prepare so that if they get deployed overseas, they can handle it.  But that’s how difficult sometimes these debates are.

But I want to pick up on some things where I think there should be consensus.  One of those areas that I talked about at the speech, part of the proposal is developing smart gun technology.  Now, this is an interesting example.  I don’t exactly understand this, and maybe there will be somebody in the audience who explains it to me.  Back in 1997, the CEO of Colt said we can design, or are starting to develop guns where you can only use it if you’ve got a chip, where you wear a band or a bracelet, and that then protects your 2-year-old or 3-year-old from picking up the gun and using it.  And a boycott was called against him, and they had to back off of developing that technology.  The same with Smith & Wesson.  They were in the process of developing similar technology, and they were attacked by the NRA as “surrendering.”

Now, to me, this does not make sense.  If you are a gun owner, I would think that you would at least want a choice so that if you wanted to purchase a firearm that could only be used by you — in part to avoid accidents in your home, in part to make sure that if it’s stolen, it’s not used by a criminal, in part, if there’s an intruder, you pull the gun but somehow it gets wrested away from you, that gun can’t be turned on you and used on you — I would think there might be a market for that.  You could sell that gun.

Now, I’m not saying that necessarily would be the only gun that’s available, but it seems to me that that would be something that in any other area, in any other product, any other commercial venture, there would be some research and development on that because that’s a promising technology.

It has not been developed primarily because it’s been blocked by either the NRA, which is funded by gun manufacturers, or other reasons.  In part, what we proposed was, you know what, we’re going to do some of the research.  We’ll work with the private sector.  (Applause.)  We’ll figure out whether or not this technology can be developed — (applause) — and then give everybody a choice in terms of the kind of firearm that they want to purchase — because I think that there will, in fact, be a market for that.  And over time, that’s an example of how we could reduce some of the preventable gun deaths that are out there.

MR. COOPER:  I want to bring in somebody who actually knows a lot about selling guns.  I want you to meet Kris Jacob.  He’s vice president of the American Firearms Retailers Association.  He’s the owner of the Bullseye Indoor Shooting Range and gun store in San Rafael, California.  Kris, it’s great to have you here.  First of all, how is business under President Obama?  Because everything I read says gun sales have been going up.  Every time he talks about guns, gun sales go up.

Q    It’s been busy.  And certainly I think that shows, as Taya said earlier, that there’s a very serious concern in this country about personal security.  And the sheriff is right — they do everything they possibly can to make sure they get there as quickly as they possibly can.  And my question is actually focused around law enforcement, as well.  There’s 53,000 licensed gun dealers in the United States who stand behind the counter and say no to people all day.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    We feel it’s our responsibility to make sure that people who have a criminal past, people who are mentally ill or are having a bad day don’t get possession of firearms.  So we assist law enforcement all the time in the process of making sure that those things don’t change hands inside our commercial market if they shouldn’t.  It’s a very serious responsibility for us, and as a group, we take it very seriously.

My question is around the executive order related to the investigators, the inspectors, the adding of 200 inspectors who are more on the auditing and record-keeping side.  Why not add 200 ATF agents on the law enforcement side to keep the criminals and the bad guys out of the stores in the first place?  I mean, the problem seems to me to be — you mentioned dealers who are less responsible than others, and certainly it’s possible that those folks are out there, but if we can enforce the laws that already exist, the tens of thousands of gun laws that are on the books right now, it might create a very significant deterrent in just getting those people in the stores.

MR. COOPER:  Let me also point out the number of ATF agents during your administration has actually declined.  So even if you hired 200 more —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, but not because of my budget.

MR. COOPER:  But even if you hired 200 more, it will get it to what it was right before you took office.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  Well, look, first of all, there are a whole bunch of responsible gun dealers out there.  And my hope would be that those gun dealers would support making sure that everybody is following the same rules that they are.  That’s number one.

Number two is we’re not writing a new law.  Only Congress can do that.  This is about enforcing existing laws, and closing what has grown into a massive loophole where a huge percentage of guns — many of whom end up being traced to crime — are not going through the responsible gun dealers, but are going through irresponsible folks who are not registered as doing business.  And the whole goal here is to clarify and to put on notice that if you’re a business, even if you don’t have bricks and mortar, then you’re supposed to register, you’re supposed to conduct background checks.  So the issue is not where you do it, it’s what you’re doing.  And that should not be something that threatens responsible gun dealers across the country.

In terms of the ATF, it is absolutely true that the ATF budget has been shrank because — has been shrunk — it’s a little late — (laughter) — you knew what I meant — (laughter) — and part of it is because the politicizing of this issue.  So many in the Republican Congress feel as if the ATF is not their friend, but their enemy.  Part of the story I was telling —

MR. COOPER:  You said this issue should be politicized, though.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, but what I mean by that, Anderson, is, is that they have been portrayed as trying to take people’s guns away as opposed to trying to make sure that the laws are enforced.  And one of the most frustrating things that I hear is when people say — who are opposed to any further laws — why don’t you just enforce the laws that are on the books, and those very same members of Congress then cut ATF budgets to make it impossible to enforce the law.  (Applause.)

And by the way, the ATF is a law enforcement agency working under the FBI that is doing enormous work in going after criminals and drug cartels, and have a pretty dangerous job.  So it’s not as if doing background checks or auditing gun sales is all that they’re doing.

Part of my proposal is also developing better technologies so that we can do tracing of shells when a crime is committed in order to figure out who exactly are the perpetrators of the crime and where did they obtain the weapon.  So there’s a whole bunch of other elements to this that are going to be important.  But my hope is, is that responsible gun dealers like yourself and your organization are going to be supportive of this proposal, because it should actually help push away unscrupulous dealers and that means more customers for you guys.

MR. COOPER:  I want to bring in Mark Kelly.  As you know, a former astronaut, husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who we’re proud to say is here tonight.  Five years ago this week in Tucson, Arizona, Congresswoman Giffords was shot.  Six others were killed.  Captain, your question?

Q    Well, thank you for being here, Mr. President.  As you know, Gabby and I are both gun owners.  We take gun ownership very seriously and really think about the voices of responsible gun owners in this debate.  But I want to follow up to something Father Pfleger said and your answer to his question, and it’s about expanded background checks.  Often, what you hear in the debate of expanding background checks to more gun sales — and, as you know, Gabby and I are 100 percent behind the concept of somebody getting a background check before buying a gun — but when we testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we heard not only from the gun lobby but from United States senators that expanding background checks will — not may — will lead to a registry, which will lead to confiscation, which will lead to a tyrannical government.

So I would like you to explain, with 350 million guns in 65 million places, households, from Key West to Alaska — 350 million objects in 65 million places — if the federal government wanted to confiscate those objects, how would they do that?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, first of all, every time I see Gabby, I’m just so thrilled because I visited her in the hospital, and, as I mentioned I think in the speech in the White House, as we left the hospital then to go to a memorial service, we got word that Gabby had opened her eyes for the first time.  And we did not think that she was going to be here, and she is.  And Mark has just been extraordinary.  And, by the way, Mark’s twin brother is up in space right now and is breaking the record for the longest continuous orbiting of the planet, which is pretty impressive stuff.

What I think Mark is alluding to is what I said earlier — this notion of a conspiracy out there, and it gets wrapped up in concerns about the federal government.  Now, there’s a long history of that.  That’s in our DNA.  The United States was born suspicious of some distant authority.

MR. COOPER:  But let me just jump in — is it fair to call it a conspiracy?  I mean, there’s a lot of people who really believe this deeply — that they just don’t trust you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, Cooper, yes it is fair to call it a conspiracy.  What are you saying?  (Applause.)  Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law —

MR. COOPER:  Not everybody, but there is certainly a lot of people —

THE PRESIDENT:  — is a conspiracy?  Yes, that is a conspiracy.  I would hope that you would agree with that.  (Applause.)  Is that controversial except on some websites around the country?

MR. COOPER:  There are certainly a lot of people who just have a fundamental distrust that you do not want to get — go further and further and further down this road.

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, I mean, I’m only going to be here for another year.  I don’t know — when would I have started on this enterprise, right?  (Laughter.)

I come from the state of Illinois, which — we’ve been talking about Chicago, but downstate Illinois is closer to Kentucky than it is to Chicago.  And everybody hunts down there and a lot of folks own guns.  And so this is not, like, alien territory to me.  I’ve got a lot of friends like Mark who are hunters.  I just came back from Alaska, where I ate a moose that had just been shot — and it was pretty good.

So, yes, it is a false notion that I believe is circulated for either political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming together among people of goodwill to develop common-sense rules that will make us safer while preserving the Second Amendment.

And the notion that we can’t agree on some things while not agreeing on others and the reason for that is because, well, the President secretly wants to X would mean that we’d be paralyzed about doing everything.  I mean, maybe when I proposed to make sure that unsafe drugs are taken off the market that, secretly, I’m trying to control the entire drug industry, or take people’s drugs away.  But probably not.  What’s more likely is I just want to make sure that people are not dying by taking bad drugs.

MR. COOPER:  You wrote an op-ed that just got published.  A lot of people probably have not read it yet.  One of the things you say in it is that you are not going to campaign for, vote for any candidate, regardless of what party they’re in, if they do not support common-sense gun reform.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  I meant what I said.  And the reason I said that is this.  The majority of people in this country are a lot more sensible than what you see in Washington, and the reason that Washington doesn’t work well in part is because the loudest, shrillest voices, the least compromising, the most powerful or those with the most money have the most influence.

And the way Washington changes is when people vote.  And the way we break the deadlock on this issue is when Congress does not have just a stranglehold on this debate — or, excuse me — the NRA does not have a stranglehold on Congress in this debate — (applause) — but it is balanced by a whole bunch of folks — gun owners, law enforcement, the majority of the American people — when their voices are heard, then things get done.

The proposals that we’ve put forward are a version — a lawful, more narrow version — of what was proposed by Joe Manchin and Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican and a Democrat, both of whom get straight-A scores from the NRA.  And somehow, after Newtown, that did not pass the Senate.  The majority of senators wanted it, but 90 percent of Republicans voted against it.  And I’ll be honest with you, 90 percent of those senators didn’t disagree with the proposal, but they were fearful that it was going to affect them during the election.

So all I’m saying is, is that this debate will not change and get balanced out so that lawful gun owners and their Second Amendment rights are protected, but we’re also creating a pathway towards a safer set of communities — it’s not going to change until those who are concerned about violence are not as focused and disciplined during election time as those who are.  And I’m going to throw my shoulders behind folks who want to actually solve problems instead of just getting a high score from an interest group.  (Applause.)

MR. COOPER:  We have time for one more question.  And we talked about Chicago a little bit.  We haven’t really heard from young people tonight — no offense to those who have spoken.  (Laughter.)  I’m in the same category as you all.  Sorry, Father.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re a kid.

MR. COOPER:  There’s a lot of kids, as you know, growing up in Chicago, fearful of walking to school, fearful of coming home from school.  A lot of kids have been killed on buses.  There’s a lot of moms of kids who have been killed in the streets of Chicago.  And I want you to meet Trey Bosley.  He’s 18 years old. He’s a high school student.  And his brother Terrell was shot and killed nearly 10 years ago while he was helping a friend in a church parking lot.  Terrell would have turned 28 years old on this Tuesday.  What’s your question, Trey?

Q    As you said, I lost my brother a few years ago — well, 10 years ago.  And I’ve also lost a countless amount of family members and friends to gun violence, as well.  And just growing up as a young black teen in Chicago, where you’re surrounded by not only just gun violence but police brutality, as well, most of aren’t thinking of our life on a long-term scale.  Most of us are either thinking day to day, hour to hour — for some, even minute to minute.  I want to thank you for your stand against gun violence for not only the victims of gun violence, but those on the verge of being victims of gun violence.  And my question to you is, what is your advice to those youth growing up surrounded by poverty and gun violence?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, Trey, I couldn’t be prouder of you.  And I know — is that your momma next to you?  I know she’s proud of you right now.  So good job, Mom.

When I see you, Terrell, I think I about my own —

MR. COOPER:  Trey.

THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me — Trey.  When I see you, I think about my own youth, because I wasn’t that different from you.  Probably not as articulate and maybe more of a goof-off.  But the main difference was I lived in a more forgiving environment.  If I screwed up, I wasn’t at risk of getting shot.  I’d get a second chance.  There were a bunch of folks who were looking out for me, and there weren’t a lot of guns on the streets.  And that’s how all kids should be growing up, wherever they live.

My advice to you is to continue to be an outstanding role model for the young ones who are coming up behind you.  Keep listening to your mom.  Work hard and get an education.  Understand that high school and whatever peer pressure or restrictions you’re under right now won’t matter by the time you’re a full adult, and what matters is your future.  But what I also want to say to you is, is that you’re really important to the future of this country.

And I think it is critical in this debate to understand that it’s not just inner-city kids who are at risk in these situations.  Out of the 30,000 deaths due to gun violence, about two-thirds of them are actually suicides.  That’s part of the reason why we are investing more heavily also in mental health under my proposal.

But while the majority of victims of gun homicide are black or Hispanic, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white.  And those, too, are tragedies.  Those, too, are preventable.  I’m the father of two outstanding young women, but being a teenager is tough.  And we all remember the times where you get confused, you’re angry, and then the next thing you know, if you have access to a firearm what kind of bad decisions you might make.  So those are deaths we also want to prevent.

Accidental shootings are also deaths we want to prevent.  And we’re not going to prevent all of them.  But we can do better.  We’re not going to, through this initiative alone, solve all the problems of inner-city crime.  Some of that, as I said, has to do with investing in these communities and making sure there’s good education and jobs and opportunity — (applause) — and great parents, and moral responsibility, and ethical behavior, and instilling that in our kids — that’s going to be important.

So this is not a proposal to solve every problem.  It’s a modest way of us getting started on improving the prospects of young men and young women like you, the same way we try to improve every other aspect of our lives.  That’s all it is.

And if we get started — as I said before, it used to be people didn’t wear seatbelts, didn’t have airbags.  It takes 20, 30 years, but you look and then you realize all these amazing lives of young people like this who are contributing to our society because we came together in a practical way, looking at evidence, looking at data, and figured out how can we make that work better.

Right now, Congress prohibits us even studying through the Center for Disease Control ways in which we could reduce gun violence.  That’s how crazy this thing has become.  Let’s at least figure out what works.  And some of the proposals that I’m making may turn out are not as effective as others.  But at least let’s figure it out, let’s try some things.  Let’s not just assume that — every few weeks there’s a mass shooting that gets publicity, every few months there’s one that gets national publicity, every day there are a whole bunch of folks shot on streets around the country that we don’t even hear about.  That is not something that we can be satisfied with.

And part of my faith and hope in America is just that — not that we achieve a perfect union, but that we get better.  And we can do better than we’re doing right now if we come together.  (Applause.)

Thank you.

MR. COOPER:  Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

THE PRESIDENT:  Appreciate it very much.

                             END           9:13 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 5, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Statement Announcing Gun Control Executive Actions

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform

Source: WH, 1-5-16

East Room

11:43 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.

Mark, I want to thank you for your introduction.  I still remember the first time we met, the time we spent together, and the conversation we had about Daniel.  And that changed me that day.  And my hope, earnestly, has been that it would change the country.

Five years ago this week, a sitting member of Congress and 18 others were shot at, at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.  It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last.  Fort Hood.  Binghamton.  Aurora.  Oak Creek.  Newtown.  The Navy Yard.  Santa Barbara.  Charleston.  San Bernardino.  Too many.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thanks to a great medical team and the love of her husband, Mark, my dear friend and colleague, Gabby Giffords, survived.  She’s here with us today, with her wonderful mom.  (Applause.)  Thanks to a great medical team, her wonderful husband, Mark — who, by the way, the last time I met with Mark  — this is just a small aside — you may know Mark’s twin brother is in outer space.  (Laughter.)  He came to the office, and I said, how often are you talking to him?  And he says, well, I usually talk to him every day, but the call was coming in right before the meeting so I think I may have not answered his call — (laughter) — which made me feel kind of bad.  (Laughter.)    That’s a long-distance call.  (Laughter.)  So I told him if his brother, Scott, is calling today, that he should take it.  (Laughter.)  Turn the ringer on.  (Laughter.)

I was there with Gabby when she was still in the hospital, and we didn’t think necessarily at that point that she was going to survive.  And that visit right before a memorial — about an hour later Gabby first opened her eyes.  And I remember talking to mom about that.  But I know the pain that she and her family have endured these past five years, and the rehabilitation and the work and the effort to recover from shattering injuries.

And then I think of all the Americans who aren’t as fortunate.  Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000.  Suicides.  Domestic violence.  Gang shootouts.  Accidents.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children.  Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or learned to live without the love of their life.

A number of those people are here today.  They can tell you some stories.  In this room right here, there are a lot of stories.  There’s a lot of heartache.  There’s a lot of resilience, there’s a lot of strength, but there’s also a lot of pain.  And this is just a small sample.

The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people.  We are not inherently more prone to violence.  But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.  It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries.  It’s not even close.  And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.

And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates — despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in America about what needs to be done.  That’s part of the reason why, on Thursday, I’m going to hold a town hall meeting in Virginia on gun violence.  Because my goal here is to bring good people on both sides of this issue together for an open discussion.

I’m not on the ballot again.  I’m not looking to score some points.  I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable.  We don’t need to be talking past one another.  But we do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.  In Dr. King’s words, we need to feel the “fierce urgency of now.”  Because people are dying.  And the constant excuses for inaction no longer do, no longer suffice.

That’s why we’re here today.  Not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to try to prevent the next one.  (Applause.)  To prove that the vast majority of Americans, even if our voices aren’t always the loudest or most extreme, care enough about a little boy like Daniel to come together and take common-sense steps to save lives and protect more of our children.

Now, I want to be absolutely clear at the start — and I’ve said this over and over again, this also becomes routine, there is a ritual about this whole thing that I have to do — I believe in the Second Amendment.  It’s there written on the paper.  It guarantees a right to bear arms.  No matter how many times people try to twist my words around — I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this — (applause) — I get it.  But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment.

I mean, think about it.  We all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech, but we accept that you can’t yell “fire” in a theater.  We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.  We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that that’s part of the price of living in a civilized society.

And what’s often ignored in this debate is that a majority of gun owners actually agree.  A majority of gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking feud from inflicting harm on a massive scale.

Today, background checks are required at gun stores.  If a father wants to teach his daughter how to hunt, he can walk into a gun store, get a background check, purchase his weapon safely and responsibly.  This is not seen as an infringement on the Second Amendment.  Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation.  Contrary to claims of some presidential candidates, apparently, before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.  You pass a background check; you purchase a firearm.

The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.  A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked.  A recent study found that about one in 30 people looking to buy guns on one website had criminal records — one out of 30 had a criminal record.  We’re talking about individuals convicted of serious crimes — aggravated assault, domestic violence, robbery, illegal gun possession.  People with lengthy criminal histories buying deadly weapons all too easily.  And this was just one website within the span of a few months.

So we’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check.  That doesn’t make sense.  Everybody should have to abide by the same rules.  Most Americans and gun owners agree.  And that’s what we tried to change three years ago, after 26 Americans -– including 20 children -– were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Two United States Senators -– Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, both gun owners, both strong defenders of our Second Amendment rights, both with “A” grades from the NRA –- that’s hard to get  — worked together in good faith, consulting with folks like our Vice President, who has been a champion on this for a long time, to write a common-sense compromise bill that would have required virtually everyone who buys a gun to get a background check.  That was it.  Pretty common-sense stuff.  Ninety percent of Americans supported that idea.  Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea.  But it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against that idea.

How did this become such a partisan issue?  Republican President George W. Bush once said, “I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.”  Senator John McCain introduced a bipartisan measure to address the gun show loophole, saying, “We need this amendment because criminals and terrorists have exploited and are exploiting this very obvious loophole in our gun safety laws.”  Even the NRA used to support expanded background checks.  And by the way, most of its members still do.  Most Republican voters still do.

How did we get here?  How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?

Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying.  I reject that thinking.  (Applause.)  We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world.  But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.

Some of you may recall, at the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill — with a knife — a bunch of children in China.  But most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon.  We maybe can’t save everybody, but we could save some.  Just as we don’t prevent all traffic accidents but we take steps to try to reduce traffic accidents.

As Ronald Reagan once said, if mandatory background checks could save more lives, “it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”  The bill before Congress three years ago met that test.  Unfortunately, too many senators failed theirs.  (Applause.)

In fact, we know that background checks make a difference.  After Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks and gun safety courses, gun deaths decreased by 40 percent — 40 percent.  (Applause.)  Meanwhile, since Missouri repealed a law requiring comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, gun deaths have increased to almost 50 percent higher than the national average.  One study found, unsurprisingly, that criminals in Missouri now have easier access to guns.

And the evidence tells us that in states that require background checks, law-abiding Americans don’t find it any harder to purchase guns whatsoever.  Their guns have not been confiscated.  Their rights have not been infringed.

And that’s just the information we have access to.  With more research, we could further improve gun safety.  Just as with more research, we’ve reduced traffic fatalities enormously over the last 30 years.  We do research when cars, food, medicine, even toys harm people so that we make them safer.  And you know what — research, science — those are good things.  They work.  (Laughter and applause.)  They do.

But think about this.  When it comes to an inherently deadly weapon — nobody argues that guns are potentially deadly — weapons that kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, Congress actually voted to make it harder for public health experts to conduct research into gun violence; made it harder to collect data and facts and develop strategies to reduce gun violence.  Even after San Bernardino, they’ve refused to make it harder for terror suspects who can’t get on a plane to buy semi-automatic weapons.  That’s not right.  That can’t be right.

So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage.  (Applause.)  We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.  (Applause.)

Now, I want to be clear.  Congress still needs to act.  The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does.  (Applause.)  Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more.  But we also can’t wait.  Until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives -– actions that protect our rights and our kids.

After Sandy Hook, Joe and I worked together with our teams and we put forward a whole series of executive actions to try to tighten up the existing rules and systems that we had in place.  But today, we want to take it a step further.  So let me outline what we’re going to be doing.

Number one, anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions.  (Applause.)  It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the Internet or at a gun show.  It’s not where you do it, but what you do.

We’re also expanding background checks to cover violent criminals who try to buy some of the most dangerous firearms by hiding behind trusts and corporations and various cutouts.

We’re also taking steps to make the background check system more efficient.  Under the guidance of Jim Comey and the FBI, our Deputy Director Tom Brandon at ATF, we’re going to hire more folks to process applications faster, and we’re going to bring an outdated background check system into the 21st century.  (Applause.)

And these steps will actually lead to a smoother process for law-abiding gun owners, a smoother process for responsible gun dealers, a stronger process for protecting the people from — the public from dangerous people.  So that’s number one.

Number two, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure the smart and effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books, which means we’re going to add 200 more ATF agents and investigators.  We’re going to require firearms dealers to report more lost or stolen guns on a timely basis. We’re working with advocates to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, where too often — (applause) — where too often, people are not getting the protection that they need.

Number three, we’re going to do more to help those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need.  (Applause.)  High-profile mass shootings tend to shine a light on those few mentally unstable people who inflict harm on others.  But the truth is, is that nearly two in three gun deaths are from suicides.  So a lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves.

That’s why we made sure that the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — (laughter and applause) — that law made sure that treatment for mental health was covered the same as treatment for any other illness.  And that’s why we’re going to invest $500 million to expand access to treatment across the country.  (Applause.)

It’s also why we’re going to ensure that federal mental health records are submitted to the background check system, and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information.  If we can continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues, get folks proper care, and fill gaps in the background check system, then we can spare more families the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.

And for those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts.  Put your money where your mouth is.  (Applause.)

Number four, we’re going to boost gun safety technology.  Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen or misused or discharged accidentally.  In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents –- and that includes 30 children younger than five years old.  In the greatest, most technologically advanced nation on Earth, there is no reason for this.  We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer.  If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?  (Applause.)  If there’s an app that can help us find a missing tablet — which happens to me often the older I get — (laughter) — if we can do it for your iPad, there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun.  If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.  (Applause.)  Right?

So we’re going to advance research.  We’re going to work with the private sector to update firearms technology.

And some gun retailers are already stepping up by refusing to finalize a purchase without a complete background check, or by refraining from selling semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.  And I hope that more retailers and more manufacturers join them — because they should care as much as anybody about a product that now kills almost as many Americans as car accidents.

I make this point because none of us can do this alone.  I think Mark made that point earlier.  All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important — Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them.  Because our right to worship freely and safely –- that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Applause.)  And that was denied Jews in Kansas City.  And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek.  (Applause.)  They had rights, too.  (Applause.)

Our right to peaceful assembly -– that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette.  Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -– those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown.  First-graders.  And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad.  And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.  (Applause.)

So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.  All of us need to stand up and protect its citizens.  All of us need to demand governors and legislatures and businesses do their part to make our communities safer.  We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us every time this happens and feel like your views are not being properly represented to join with us to demand something better.  (Applause.)

And we need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way, to remember come election time.  (Applause.)

I mean, some of this is just simple math.  Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, any time.  Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate.  We have to be just as organized in defense of our kids.  This is not that complicated.  The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections.  And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you.  (Applause.)

And, yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight.  It won’t happen during this Congress.  It won’t happen during my presidency.  But a lot of things don’t happen overnight.  A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight.  The liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight.  LGBT rights — that was decades’ worth of work.  So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.

And if you have any doubt as to why you should feel that “fierce urgency of now,” think about what happened three weeks ago.  Zaevion Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He played football; beloved by his classmates and his teachers.  His own mayor called him one of their city’s success stories.  The week before Christmas, he headed to a friend’s house to play video games.  He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He hadn’t made a bad decision.  He was exactly where any other kid would be.  Your kid.  My kids. And then gunmen started firing.  And Zaevion — who was in high school, hadn’t even gotten started in life — dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets.  And he was shot in the head.  And the girls were spared.  He gave his life to save theirs –- an act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old.  “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are not asked to do what Zaevion Dobson did.  We’re not asked to have shoulders that big; a heart that strong; reactions that quick.  I’m not asking people to have that same level of courage, or sacrifice, or love.  But if we love our kids and care about their prospects, and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote.  We can find the courage to get mobilized and organized.  We can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do.

That’s what we’re doing today.  And tomorrow, we should do more.  And we should do more the day after that.  And if we do, we’ll leave behind a nation that’s stronger than the one we inherited and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  Thank you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END

12:20 P.M. EST

 

Full Text Political Transcripts January 4, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Recommendations on Gun Safety

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Recommendations on Gun Safety

 

Source: WH, 1-4-16

Oval Office

2:42 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Happy New Year, everybody.  Before the New Year, I mentioned that I had given the charge to my Attorney General, FBI Director, Deputy Director at the ATF, and personnel at my White House to work together to see what more we could do to prevent a scourge of gun violence in this country.

I think everybody here is all too familiar with the statistics.  We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns.  We have suicides that are committed by firearms at a rate that far exceeds other countries.  We have a frequency of mass shootings that far exceeds other countries in frequency.

And although it is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the problem Congress needs to act, what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands to make sure that criminals, people who are mentally unstable, those who could pose a danger to themselves or others are less likely to get them.

And I’ve just received back a report from Attorney General Lynch, Director Comey, as well as Deputy Director Brandon about some of the ideas and initiatives that they think can make a difference.  And the good news is, is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they’re also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe.

So over the next several days, we’ll be rolling out these initiatives.  We’ll be making sure that people have a very clear understanding of what can make a difference and what we can do.  And although we have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country, it’s not going to prevent every mass shooting, it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal, it will potentially save lives and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss that they’ve suffered as a consequence of a firearm getting in the hands of the wrong people.

I’m also confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people’s lawful right to bear arms.  And we’ve been very careful recognizing that, although we have a strong tradition of gun ownership in this country, that even though it’s who possess firearms for hunting, for self-protection, and for other legitimate reasons, I want to make sure that the wrong people don’t have them for the wrong reasons.

So I want to say how much I appreciate the outstanding work that the team has done.  Many of you worked over the holidays to get this set of recommendations to me.  And I’m looking forward to speaking to the American people over the next several days in more detail about it.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END

2:46 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts December 23, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Persecuted Christians at Christmas

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Persecuted Christians at Christmas

Source: WH, 12-23-15

During this season of Advent, Christians in the United States and around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  At this time, those of us fortunate enough to live in countries that honor the birthright of all people to practice their faith freely give thanks for that blessing.  Michelle and I are also ever-mindful that many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that right, and hold especially close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution.

In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.

We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations.  As the old Christmas carol reminds us:

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.

Full Text Political Transcripts December 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s end-of-year news conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Transcript: President Obama’s end-of-year news conference

Source: WaPo, 12-18-15

President Obama held his final news conference of the year before leaving for two weeks of vacation in his home state of Hawaii on Friday, fielding questions on terrorism and national security as he sought to highlight some of his domestic and foreign policy achievements over the past year.

Here is the full text of his remarks.

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Clearly, this is not the most important event that’s taking place in the White House today. There is a screening of Star Wars for Gold Star families and children coming up. So I’ll try to be relatively succinct. Let me say a few words about the year behind us and the year ahead and then I’ll take a few questions. As I look back on this year, the one thing I see is that so much of our steady persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways. Our early actions to rescue the economy set the stage for the longest streak of private sector job growth on record, with 13.7 million new jobs in that time. The unemployment rate has been cut in half, down to 5 percent. And most importantly, wages grew faster than at any time since the recovery began.

OBAMA: So over the course of this year, a lot of the decisions that we made early on have paid off. Years of steady implementation of the Affordable Care Act helped to drive the rate of the uninsured in America below 10 percent for 10 percent for the first time since records were kept on that. Health care prices have grown at their lowest level in five decades. Seventeen million more Americans have gained coverage, and we now know that 6 million people have signed up through healthcare.gov for coverage beginning on January, 1st — 600,000 on Tuesday alone.

New customers are up one-third over last year, and the more who sign up, the stronger the system becomes. And that’s good news for every American who no longer has to worry about being just one illness or accident away from financial hardship.

On climate, our early investment in clean energy ignited a clean energy industry boom. Our actions to help reduce our carbon emissions brought China to the table and last week in Paris nearly 200 nations forged a historic agreement that was only possible because of American leadership. Around the world, from reaching the deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, to re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, to concluding a landmark trade agreement that will make sure that American workers and American businesses are operating on a level playing field and that we, rather than China or other countries, are setting the rules for global trade. We have shone what is possible when America leads.

And after decades of dedicated advocacy, marriage equality became a reality in all 50 states.

So I just want to point out I said at the beginning of this year that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and we are only halfway through.

I do want to thank Congress for ending the year on a high note. I got to sign an education bill that is going to fix some of the challenges that we had with No Child Left Behind, and promises to invest more in high-quality early childhood education.

OBAMA: We signed a transportation bill that, although not as robust as I think we need, still allows states and local governments to plan and actually get moving putting people back to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges. We got Ex-Im Bank back to work supporting American exports.

And today they passed a bipartisan budget deal. I’m not wild about everything in it. I’m sure that’s true for everybody. But it is a budget that, as I insisted, invests in our military and our middle class without ideological provisions that would have weakened Wall Street reform or rules on big polluters. It’s part of an agreement that will permanently extend tax credits to 24 million working families. It includes some long-sought wins like strengthening America’s leadership at the IMF.
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And because it eliminates the possibility of a shutdown for the first nine months of next year, Congress and I have a long way to get important things done on behalf of the American people.

Now there’s still a lot of work to do. For example, there’s still a lot more that Congress can do to promote job growth and increase wages in this country. I still want to work with Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to reform our criminal justice system.

And earlier today I commuted the sentences of 95 men and women who had served their debt to society, and another step forward in upholding our ideals of justice and fairness.

And of course, our most important job is to keep Americans safe. I’ve had a lot to say about that this week, but let me reiterate. The United States continues to lead a global coalition in our mission to destroy ISIL. ISIL’s already lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and it’s losing territory in Syria.

As we keep up the pressure, our air campaign will continue to hit ISIL harder than ever, taking out their leaders, their commanders and their forces. We’re stepping up our support for partners on the ground as they push ISIL back. Our men and women in uniform are carrying out their mission with a trademark professionalism and courage. And this holiday season all of us are united in our gratitude for their service, and we are thankful to their families as well because they serve alongside those who are actually deployed.

Squeezing ISIL’s heart at its core in Syria and Iraq will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world. At the same time, as we know from San Bernardino, where I’ll visit with families later today, we have to remain vigilant here at home. Our counter-terrorism, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities are working 24/7 to protect our homeland. And all of us can do our part by staying vigilant, by saying something if we see something that is suspicious, by refusing to be terrorized, and staying united as one American family.

In short for all the very real progress America’s made over the past seven years, we still have some unfinished business. And I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as president to deliver on behalf of the American people.

Since taking this office, I have never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016 I’m going to leave it out all on the field.

So with that, let me take some questions.

I’ll start with Roberta Ranton (ph) on Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you’re going to California today. And as you said earlier this week, you told the nation that there’s no specific or credible threat of a similar attack, but how is it really possible to know? I mean, aren’t similar plots going to be just as hard to detect beforehand? And some lawmakers are saying that your government should review the social media of all people applying for visas to come to this country. What do you think of that idea? Should that be mandatory?

OBAMA: Well, Roberta, you’re absolutely right that it is very difficult for us to detect lone wolf plots or plots involving a husband and wife, in this case, because despite the incredible vigilance of all of our law enforcement, homeland security, et cetera, it’s not that different from us trying to detect the next mass shooter. You don’t always see it. They’re not always communicating publicly, and if you’re not catching what they say publicly, then it becomes a challenge.

We are continuing to work at every level, to make sure that there’s no slip between information-sharing among agencies.

OBAMA: We’re continuing to strengthen our information sharing with foreign countries, and because in part of the tragedy in Paris, I think you’re seeing much greater cooperation from our European partners on these issues.

But this is a different kind of challenge than the sort that we had with an organization like Al Qaida, that involved highly trained operatives who were working as cells or as a network.

Here, essentially, you have ISIL trying to encourage or induce somebody who may be prey to this kind of propaganda, and it becomes more difficult to — to see.

It does mean that they are less likely to be able to carry out large, complex attacks, but as we saw in San Bernardino, obviously, you can still do enormous damage.

The issue of reviewing social media for those who are obtaining visas, I think, may have gotten garbled a little bit, because there may be — it’s important to distinguish between posts that are public — social media on a Facebook page — versus private communications through various social media or apps.

And our law enforcement and intelligence professionals are constantly monitoring public posts, and that is part of the visa review process, that — that people are investigating what individuals have said publicly, and questioned about any statements that they maybe made.

But if you have a private communication between two individuals, that’s harder to discern, by definition. And one of the things we’ll be doing is engaging with the high-tech community to find out how we can, in an appropriate way, do a better job, if we have a lead, to be able to track a suspected terrorist.

But we’re gonna have to recognize that no government is gonna have the capacity to read every single person’s texts or e-mails or social media. If — if it’s not posted publicly, then there are gonna be feasibility issues that are — that are probably insurmountable at some level.

And, you know, it raises questions about our values. I mean, keep in mind it was only a couple years ago where we were having a major debate about whether the government was becoming too much like Big Brother. And, overall, I think we have struck the right balance in protecting civil liberties and making sure that U.S. citizens’ privacy is preserved, that we are making sure that there’s oversight to what our intelligence agencies do.

But, you know, we’re going to have to continue to balance our needs for security with people’s legitimate concerns about privacy. And because the Internet is global and communications systems are global, you know, the values that we apply here often times are ones that folks who are trying to come into the country are also benefiting from, because they’re using the same technologies.

But this is precisely why we’re working very hard to bring law enforcement, intelligence and high-tech companies together, because we’re gonna have to really review what we can do, both technically as well as consistent with our laws and values, in order to try to discern more rapidly some of the potential threats that may be out there.

OK. David Jackson.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a Gitmo question. Congress has made it pretty clear that they are just (ph) not gonna let you transfer prisoners to the United States for trial. But some people think you already have the executive authority to transfer those prisoners and — and close Gitmo itself next year.

My question is, do you believe you have that authority, and are you willing to exercise it to close that (inaudible)?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, we have been working systematically, another example of persistence, in reducing the population. We have a review process for those who are eligible for transfer. We locate (ph), in countries that have accepted some of these detainees, they monitor them, and it’s been determined that they can be transferred.

And my expectation is, by the early (ph) — by early next year, we should have reduced that population below 100. And we will continue — continue to steadily chip away at the numbers in Guantanamo.

There’s gonna come to a point where we have an irreducible population — people who pose a significant threat, but for various reasons, it’s difficult for us to try them in an Article III court.

Some of those folks are going through the military commission process. But there’s going to be a challenge there. Now, at that stage, I’m presenting a plan to Congress about how we can close Guantanamo.

I’m not going to automatically assume that Congress says no. I’m not being coy, David. I think it’s fair to say that there’s gonna be significant resistance from some quarters, to that.

But I think we can make a very strong argument that it doesn’t make sense for us to be spending an extra $100 million, $200 million, $300 million, $500 million, $1 billion, to have a — a secure setting for 50, 60, 70 people.

And we will wait until Congress has said definitively no to a well thought out plan with numbers attached to it, before we say anything definitive about my executive authority here. I think it’s far preferable if I can get stuff done with Congress.

QUESTION: It’s an election year. You know they’re not gonna do it (ph). (inaudible) on your own?

OBAMA: David, as — as I said — you know, and I think you’ve seen me, on a whole bunch of issues, like immigration, I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna be forward-leaning on what I can do without Congress before I’ve tested what I can do with Congress.

And every once in a while, they’ll surprise you, and — and this may be one of those places, because we can make a really strong argument Guantanamo continues to be one of the key magnets for Jihadi recruitment. You know, to Roberta’s (ph) question earlier about how do they propagandize and convince somebody here in the United States, who may not have a criminal record or a history of terrorist activity, to start shooting, this is part of what they feed. This notion of a gross injustice, that America’s not living up to its professed ideals.

We know that. We see the — the Internet traffic. We see how Guantanamo has been used to create this mythology that America is at war with Islam. And — you know, for us to close it is part of our counterterrorism strategy that is supported by our military, our diplomatic and our intelligence teams.

So when you combine that with the fact that it’s really expensive, and that we are — you know, essentially, at this point, detaining a handful of people, and each person is costing several million dollars to detain, when there are more efficient ways of doing it, you know, I think we can make a strong argument.

I — I — I’m — but I’ll take — you know, I’ll take your point, that it’ll be an uphill battle. Every battle I’ve had with Congress over the last five years have been — has been uphill, and — but we keep on surprising you by actually getting some stuff done.

QUESTION: (inaudible) on an immigration bill (ph)?

OBAMA: Sometimes — sometimes that may prove necessary, but — you know, we try not to get out ahead of ourselves on that.

Julie Pace.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Wanted to ask you about the broader challenges in the Middle East.

OBAMA: Yeah.

QUESTION: Who (ph) of the Republicans who are running for president have argued that the Mid-East and the United States would be safer if you hadn’t (ph) had regime changes, places (ph) like Iraq, Libya, and Egypt.

And having gone through the experience of the Arab Spring and the aftermath, I wonder what you now see of (ph) the U.S. role in the Middle East in terms of trying to push dictators out of power.

Would you advise future presidents to call for authoritarian leaders to step down, as you did? And just specifically on Syria, at this point, is it your expectation that Bashar Assad’s presidency will outlast yours?

OBAMA: You know, there’s been a lot of revisionist history, sometimes by the same people, making different arguments depending on the situation. So maybe it’s useful just for us to go back over some of these issues.

We did not depose Hosni Mubarak. Millions of Egyptians did because of their dissatisfaction with the corruption and authoritarianism of the regime. We had a working relationship with Mubarak. We didn’t trigger the Arab Spring, and the notion that somehow the U.S. was in a position to pull the strings on a country that is the largest in the Arab world, I think is — is mistaken.

What is true is that at the point at which the choice becomes mowing down millions of people or trying to find some transition, we believed and I would still argue that it was more sensible for us to find a peaceful transition to the Egyptian situation.

With respect to Libya, Libya is sort of an alternative version of Syria in some ways, because by the time the international coalition interceded in Syria, chaos had already broken out. You already had the makings of a civil war. You had a dictator who was threatening and was in a position to carry out the wholesale slaughter of large numbers of people. And we worked under U.N. mandate with a coalition of folks in order to try to avert a big humanitarian catastrophe that would not have good for us.

Those who now argue in retrospect, we should have left Gadhafi in there, seem to forget that he had already lost legitimacy and control of his country and we could have — instead of what we have in Libya now, we could have had another Syria in Libya now. The — the problem with Libya was the fact that there was a failure on the part of the entire international community, and I think that the United States has some accountability for not moving swiftly enough and underestimating the need to rebuild government there quickly, and as a consequence, you now have a very bad situation.

As far as Syria goes, I think it is entirely right and proper for the United States of America to speak out on behalf of its (ph) values. And when you have an authoritarian leader that is killing hundreds of thousands of his own people, the notion that we would just stand by and say nothing is contrary to who we are, and that does not serve our interests, because at that point, us being in collusion with that kind of governance would make us even more of a target for terrorist activity, would…

QUESTION: Do you think that government (ph) can help try to stop (inaudible)?

OBAMA: But — but the reason that Assad has been a problem in Syria is because that is a majority Sunni country and he had lost the space that he had early on to execute an inclusive transition — peaceful transition. He chose instead to slaughter people and once that happened, the idea that a minority population there could somehow crush tens of millions of people who oppose him is not feasible. It’s not plausible. Even if you were being cold-eyed and hard-heartened about the human toll there, it just wouldn’t happen.

OBAMA: And as a consequence, our view has been that you cannot bring peace to Syria, you cannot get an end to the civil war unless you have a government that has — it is recognized as legitimate by a majority of that country. It will not happen, and this is the argument that I have had repeatedly with Mr. Putin. Dating five years ago, at which time his suggestion, as I gather some Republicans are now suggesting, was, “You know, Assad’s not so bad, let him just be as brutal and repressive as he can, but at least he’ll keep order.” I said, “Look. The problem is that the history of trying to keep order when a large majority of the country has turned against you is not good.”

And five years later, I was right. So we now have an opportunity — and John Kerry is meeting as we speak with Syria and Turkey and Iran and the Gulf countries and other parties who are interested, we now have an opportunity not to turn back the clock, it’s going to be difficult to completely overcome the devastation that’s happened in Syria already, but to find a political transition that maintains the Syrian state, that recognizes a bunch of stakeholders inside of Syria and hopefully to initiate a cease-fire that won’t be perfect, but allows all the parties to turn on what should be our number one focus, and that is destroying Daesh and its allies in the region.

And that is going to be a difficult process, it’s going to be a pain staking process, but there is no shortcut to that. And that’s not based on some idealism on my part, that’s our hard-headed calculation about what’s going to be required to get the job done.

QUESTION: Do you think that Assad, though, could remain in power a year from now?

OBAMA: I think that Assad is going to have to leave in order for the country to stop the bloodletting and for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way. He has lost legitimacy in the eyes of a large majority of the country.

Now, is there a way of us constructing a bridge creating a political transition that allows those who are aligned with Assad right now, allows the Russians, allows the Iranians to ensure that their equities are respected and minorities, that minorities like the Alawites (ph) are not crushed or retribution is not the order of the day, I think that’s going to be very important as well.

And that’s what make this so difficult. You know, sadly, had Assad made a decision earlier that he was not more important personally than his entire country, that kind of political transition would have been much easier. It’s a lot harder now.

But John Kerry has been doing excellent work in moving that process forward and I do think that you’ve seen from the Russians a recognition that after a couple months, they’re not really moving the needle that much in this fight of sizable deployment inside of Syria. And of course, that’s what I suggested would happen, because there’s only so much bombing you can do when an entire country is outraged and believes that its ruler doesn’t represent them.

Sheryl (ph) Bowl (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask about the surprise (ph) in Congress. Specifically, what are your top legislative priorities for next year? And how has the new speaker, Paul Ryan, changed the dynamic with you and Capitol Hill? And can you be more ambitious next year doing things like maybe completing the Transatlantic Trade Partnership or even getting tax reform?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, it’s important to give some credit where credit is due. John Boehner did a favor to all of us, including now Speaker Ryan, by working with us to agree on a top line budget framework. That was the basis for subsequent negotiations. He was able to do that because he was going out the door, and was then given, I think, a little more room to maneuver than he previously had.

Having said that, I also want to give Speaker Ryan credit. I called both him and Mitch McConnell, as well as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for the orderly way in which they actually negotiated a budget, the way Congress is historically and typically supposed to work. I think (ph) we’ve gotten kind of used to last-minute crises and shutdown threats and so forth. And this — this is a messy process that doesn’t satisfy everybody completely, but it’s more typical of American democracy, and I think that Speaker Ryan deserves a role in that.

I will say that, in his interactions with me, he has been professional, he has reached out to tell me what he can do and what he cannot do. I think it’s a good working relationship.

We recognize that we disagree on a whole bunch of other stuff, and have fundamentally different visions for where we want to move the country, but, perhaps because even before he was elected he had worked on Capitol Hill, I think he is respectful of the process and respectful of how legislation works.

So kudos to him, as well as all the leaders and appropriators who were involved in this process. Now, just want to repeat, because sometimes we take for granted what’s happened.

I said early on in this process that I wasn’t going to sign a budget that — that did not relieve sequester, this artificial austerity that was making it difficult to invest in things like education and our military. And I said I would not accept a lot of ideological riders that were attached to a big budget deal.

And we met our goals. And because of some terrific negotiations by the Democrats up on Capitol Hill, and I think some pretty good work by our legislative staffs here, we’re gonna be able to fund environmental protection, we’re gonna be able to make sure that we’re investing in things like early childhood education and making college more affordable.

We’re going to be able to implement the clean power plant rule. We’re going to be able to continue to invest in clean energy that spurs on innovation. We’re going to be able to make sure that our military gets the equipment and the training that it needs to be effective in fighting ISIL and other threats around the world.

So it was a — it was a good win. And there are some things in there that I don’t like, but that’s the nature of legislation and — and compromise. And I think the system worked. That gives me some optimism that, next year, on a narrow set of issues, we can get some more work done.

As David said, it’s an election year, and obviously, a lot of the legislative process is going to be skewed by people looking over their shoulders, worrying about primaries, trying to position themselves relative to the presidential candidates. So that makes it harder.

But I think there are going to be a handful of areas where we can make real progress. One of them, you already mentioned, Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now has been out, Congress has had a chance to review, and it meets the bar that I set.

It is consistent with what I promised, which is the most pro- labor, pro-environment, progressive trade deal in history, that eliminates just about every tariff on American manufacturing goods in countries that up until this point have charged a tax, essentially, on anything that American workers and American businesses sell in these areas.

It brings those taxes down to zero on basically all of American manufactured products. A huge win for agriculture, because now — you know, the people of Japan are going to be in a better position to enjoy American beef and American pork, which, up until this point, even though we’re much more efficient producers, has have been tagged with a tax that makes — you know, our products uncompetitive in Japanese markets.

So this is a big deal, and I think Speaker Ryan would like to try to get it done. And there are both proponents and opponents of this in both Democratic and Republican parties, and so it’s gonna be an interesting situation where we’re going to have to stitch together the same kind of bipartisan effort, in order for us to get it done.

A second area that I think is possible is criminal justice reform. There has been sincere, serious negotiations and efforts by Democrats and Republicans to create a criminal justice system that is more fair, more even handed, more proportionate and is smarter about how we reduce crime. And I have really been impressed by the dedication of a core group of Democrats and Republicans. Some of them the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans coming together saying this is the right thing to do. We’ve got a good bill in the Senate that passed with bipartisan support out of committee. My hope is that that gets to the floor. And that we can pair it up with a good bill out of the House. And then this is an area where potentially can see us save money, reduce recidivism, you know, make sure people who make a mistake on nonviolent crimes have to pay the price. Have to serve time, but are released in a — in a reasonable fashion. That they have more support so they’re less likely to go back into the criminal system, subsequently.

And that’s an area where we may be able to make a big difference. So those are just two examples. We’ll keep on looking for a number of examples like that. And — and wherever there’s an opportunity, I’m going to take it.

Phillip Grub (ph). Phillip Grub (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned climate change already. And at the time of the signing of the deal in Paris you said it was potentially a turning point for the the world. But this was a deal that was — that is not a legally binding document and you bypassed Congress pretty much completely.

Are you worried at this point that a Republican president who might take over for you in the White House could stop the deal in its tracks entirely, and considering that possibility, are you more interested in campaigning for a Democrat nominee considering that danger?

OBAMA: I think it’s fair I was going to be campaigning for a Democratic nominee even without that danger. And I am very confident that we’re going to have a terrific Democratic nominee and — whose phone is that, guys? Come on, now. Somebody. You recognize your ring, don’t be embarrassed. Just turn it off. There you go. OK. Can I still here it?

All right, I think it’s off now.

I think we will have a strong Democratic nominee. I think that nominee will win. I think I will have a Democratic successor and I will campaign very hard to make that happy for a whole variety of reasons because they’re far more likely to share my fundamental vision about where America should go.

But having said that, what I think people should also feel good about is that the agreement struck in Paris, although not legally binding when it comes to the targets that had been set does create this architecture in which all around the world countries are saying this is where we’re going.

We’re going to be chasing after this clean energy future. This is how we’re going to meet our goals. We’re going to double down on solar power. We’re going to double down on wind power. We’re going to invest more heavily in biofuels. We’re going to figure out battery technologies.

And what you saw in this budget, which I think was really significant, was an extension of the solar tax credits and wind tax credits that we had helped to really boost early on in my administration and that it resulted in wind power increasing threefold, solar power increasing by twentyfold. Those tax credits are now going to be extended for five to seven years and as a consequence, that combination of market signals means that the private sector is going to start investing much more heavily. They know this is coming. And it’s not just coming here. It’s coming around the world.

You now have a global marketplace for clean energy that is stable and accelerating over the course of the next decade. That then creates a different dynamic that is independent of what Congress does, but also helps to shape what Congress does. Because the more people that are now getting jobs in solar installation and production, the more that you have companies who are seeing how American innovation can sell products in clean energy all across the Asia Pacific and in Europe and in Africa. Suddenly, there’s a big monetary incentive to getting this right.

And that’s been the history of environmental progress in this country and now we’ve exported it around the world. Every time we have made a decision, you know what, we’re going to have clean air. The predictions were, everything would fall apart. And low and behold, turns out that American innovation makes getting clean air a lot less expensive than people expected and it happens a lot faster than expected.

When we made a decision that we were going to double fuel efficiency standards on cars, everybody said, I’m just going to ruin the American auto industry. The American auto industry has been booming over the last couple years.

Acid rain. When George H.W. Bush instituted a system to charge for the emissions that were causing acid rain, everybody said, well you can’t do that, that’s going to ruin business and it turned out that it was smoother, faster, quicker, better.

And acid rain — folks who were born, I don’t know — some of you reporters are getting younger or I’m getting older, you may not remember it but that was a big deal and now most folks don’t even remember it anymore because it got solved. And there’s no reason why the same won’t happen here.

Now, do I think there’s going to be a lot of noise and campaigning next year about how we’re going to stop Paris in its tracks? There will probably be a lot of noise about that. Do I actually think two years from now, three years from now, even Republican members of Congress are going to look at it and say that’s a smart thing to do? I don’t think they will.

Keep in mind that right now the American Republican party is the only major party that I can think of in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change. I mean, it’s an outlier. Many of the key signatories to this deal, the architects of this deal, come from center-right governments. Even the far right parties in many of these countries. They may not like immigrants for example, but they admit, yes, the science tells us that we have to do something about climate change. So my sense is that this is something that may be an advantage in terms of short-term politics in the Republican primary. It’s not something that is going to be a winner for Republicans long- term.

QUESTION: You mentioned American leadership. But is it embarrassing to you that the other party denies climate change?

OBAMA: No, because first of all, I’m not a member of that party. Second of all, it didn’t stop us from being the key leader in getting this done. I mean, this is something that I have been working on now for five, six years. When I went to Copenhagen, I essentially engaged in 24 hours of diplomacy to salvage from a pretty chaotic process, the basic principle that all countries had to participate.

We couldn’t have a rigid division between developed countries and developing countries when it came to solving this problem. That was the initial foundation for us. Then working with other countries, culminating in the joint announcement with China, bringing in India, bringing in Brazil and the other big, emerging countries, working with the Europeans in getting this done.

This would not have happened without American leadership. And by the way, the same is true for the Iran nuclear deal. The same is true for the Trans-Pacific partnership. The same is true for stamping out Ebola, something you guys may recall from last year, which was the potential end of the world.

You know, at each juncture, what we have said is that American strength and American exceptionalism is not just a matter of us bombing somebody. More often, it’s a matter of us convening, setting the agenda, pointing other nations in a direction that’s good for everybody and good for U.S. interests.

Engaging in painstaking diplomacy, leading by example and sometimes, the results don’t come overnight, they don’t come the following day, but they come. And this year, what you really saw was that steady, persistent leadership on many initiatives that I began when I first came into office.

Alright.

QUESTION: Mr. President?

OBAMA: I’ve got April Ryan (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, I want to ask you something about criminal justice — on that subject and also something on Secretary Kerry (ph). Your administration contends (ph) the United States is five percent of the world population, but 25 percent of the global jail population. What legislation are you supporting that significantly cuts mass incarceration in this country? And going back to the Assad (ph) issue, does Assad have to go to defeat ISIS? OBAMA: Well, we’re going to defeat ISIS, and we’re going to do so by systemically squeezing them, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing, taking out their leadership, taking out their forces, taking out their infrastructure. We’re going to do so in partnership with forces on the ground that sometimes are spotty, sometimes need capacity building, need our assistance, need our training, but we’re seeing steadily progress in many of these areas. And so they’re going to be on the run.

Now, they are going to continue to be dangerous, so — so let me just be very clear, because whenever I say that we have made progress in squeezing the territory that they control or made real end roads against them, what people will say is, well, if something happens around the world, then obviously that must not be true.

But in any battle, in any fight, even as you make progress, there’s still dangers involved. And ISIL’s capacity both to infiltrate Western countries with people who have travel to Syria or travel to Iraq and the savviness of their social media, their ability to recruit disaffected individuals who may be French or British or even U.S. citizens, will continue to make them dangerous for some time. But — but — but we will systemically go after them.

Now, in order for us to stamp them out thoroughly, we have to eliminate lawless areas in which they cannot still roam. So we can — we can disable them, we can dismantle much of their infrastructure, greatly reduce the threat that they pose to the United States, our allies and our neighbors, but in the same way that Al Qaida is pinned down and has much more difficulty carrying out any significant attacks because of how we have systemically dismantled them, they still pose a threat.

There are still operatives who are interested in carrying out terrorist attacks because they still operate in areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan or more prominently right now in Yemen that are hard to reach. Our — our long-term goal has to be able to stabilize these areas so that they don’t have any safe haven, and in order for us to do that in Syria, there has to be an end to the civil war. There has to be an actual government that has a police capacity and a structure in these areas that currently aren’t governed.

And it is my firm belief and the belief of the experts in this administration that so long as Assad is there, we cannot achieve that kind of stability inside of Syria, and, you know, I — I think the history over the last several years indicates as much. So that’s going to continue to be a top priority for us, moving aggressively on the military track and not letting ISIL take a breath and pounding away at them with our special forces and our airstrikes and the training and advising of partners that can go after them. But we also have to keep very aggressive on this diplomatic track in order for us to bring countries together. All right?

Everybody? On criminal justice reform? I — I answered the question. I’m hopeful.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) OBAMA: Right. In April (ph), what I said was is that I strongly support the Senate legislation that’s already been put forward. I’m hopeful that the House can come up with legislation that follows the same principles, which is to make sure that we’re doing sentencing reform, but we’re also doing a better job in terms of reducing recidivism and providing support for ex-offenders. And if we can get those two bills together in a conference, then I’m somewhat optimistic that we’re gonna be able to make a difference.

Now keep in mind, April (ph), when you use the term mass incarceration, statistically the overwhelming majority of people who are incarcerated are in state prisons and state facilities for state crimes. We can only focus on federal law and federal crimes. And so there’s still going to be a large population of individuals who are incarcerated even for nonviolent drug crimes because this is a trend that started in the late ’80s and ’90s and accelerated at the state levels.

But if we can show at the federal level that we can be smart on crime, more cost effective, more just, more proportionate, then we can set a trend for other states to follow as well. And that’s our hope.

This is not going to be something that’s reversed overnight. So just to go back to my general principle, April (ph), it took 20 years for us to get to the point we are now. And only 20 years probably before we reverse — we reverse some of these major trends.

OK, everybody, I gotta get to Star Wars. Thank you. Thank you, guys.

Appreciate you. Thank you. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Full Text Political Transcripts December 12, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

The President Delivers a Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement

Source: WH, 12-12-15

 

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